LIFE GOES ON
Meanwhile, Back in New York…
Part 2: Moments of Thanksgiving
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)
Standard Disclaimers and acknowledgments apply. I'm not making a dime of profit off this; please don't sue.
The big Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade had run its course hours ago, and everyone who'd watched it had agreed that it had been a grand spectacle, as usual. Now, as dusk shrouded the city, families everywhere sat down to their traditional Thanksgiving feasts.
For some people in Manhattan, it was their first Thanksgiving ever. Delilah and the other cloned gargoyles that lived in the Labyrinth hovered excitedly around the underground kitchen, from which the most wonderful smells were wafting out; turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, cranberries, green bean casserole…
David Xanatos had arranged for the delivery of all the food in the last two days, and Ruth and the other folks who knew how to cook had been kept busy indeed preparing everything. But they hadn't needed to make the desserts; Mr. Xanatos and his party had arrived fifteen minutes ago with a dozen apple pies, a dozen mince pies, two dozen pumpkin pies and several buckets of whipped cream.
It took a lot of work and an enormous amount of patience to get all the Labyrinth's diverse residents settled harmoniously at the dining hall tables, and all the food set out for serving. But eventually they were all eating and talking merrily, and someone brought up the usual question asked at Thanksgiving feasts: "What are you thankful for?"
Talon gave his wife Maggie a one-armed hug, and said without hesitation, "A wonderful wife, a baby on the way and a cure someday, when we're all ready."
Maggie leaned into her husband's embrace, before saying contentedly, "A wonderful husband, the baby, and the cure… and all our friends down here. Oh, and I'm very thankful the morning sickness is finally over, so I can enjoy eating again!" she added with an embarrassed grin.
Claw signed his response with one hand while hugging his wife Dana with the other. Talon spoke for him: "He says he's thankful for his wonderful wife, and all his friends down here in the Labyrinth." Claw stopped after that, while Talon looked at him in mild surprise; he hadn't mentioned the mutate cure. Wasn't Claw thankful for that too? But Claw just sank his fangs into a turkey leg and went on eating, while Dana signed her response. Maggie translated for the rest that Dana was thankful for her awesome husband, and all her friends (and didn't mention the potential cure either.)
Anne Marsden was preoccupied with patiently feeding little Alexander his strained peas and rice cereal, while Owen coached little Bethany on her table manners. But Anne looked up long enough to say with a smile, "I'm thankful for a new home, a new job, and wonderful employers... new friends, and old friends who still make me feel welcome here."
Everyone nearby assured her that the Labyrinth would always have its doors open for her, then quieted down to hear what Owen had to say. After a brief pause, Owen said softly while looking at Bethany and Alexander, "I am thankful for finding new reasons to keep living, and enjoying what Life has to offer."
David Xanatos was also looking at Alexander as he said, "I'm thankful for a fantastic son, an equally fantastic wife…" He looked up and around him at the others assembled as he finished, "And people who believe in second chances."
In a dining hall at Columbia University, the man who had been born Jason Canmore, scion of the Hunters, looked questioningly at the food that had just been put on his plate. "Ye're sure that's part o' the main meal, and not for afters?"
"Oh, sure; sweet potato casserole is always served right alongside the turkey and stuffing!" one of his new friends assured him.
"But there's marshmallows atop it… ach, well, who am I to say what's proper tonight?" Jason said with a shrug as he set the plate on his lap and began wheeling himself away from the buffet, over to the long table that had a spot cleared for him to park his wheelchair at. The whole day had been one of questions and frustrations, but there had been high points as well and he might as well enjoy this latest one.
His new identification had arrived yesterday by way of Federal Express; he now had plenty of papers showing him to be Jason Cunningham, of Edinburgh, come to America a little less than a year ago. He's told the few who had asked so far that he'd arrived to claim an inheritance from an American cousin, and discovered he'd liked America so much better than his native land that he'd decided he wanted to stay here. (No one ever argued with that; typical of these prideful Americans, although their country did have its good points.) Jason had paid extra for "full backup", and his contact assured him that the correct data had been entered into the INS's computers by the time his package had arrived.
Once his new identity was firmly in place and his funds had been transferred over to new accounts, Jason set out to contact the People for Interspecies Tolerance; to make good on his vow to help the gargoyles his family had hunted over the centuries. But when his taxicab had arrived on the campus of Columbia University that morning, he'd been chagrined to realize that he'd entirely forgotten about the American holiday of Thanksgiving! There were no classes being held at all that day… and little chance of finding any of the people whose names he'd recalled from that flyer for the P.I.T.
But since was there already, he'd decided it wouldn't hurt to try to find the P.I.T. And found that no, it didn't hurt, but it was sorely difficult at points; far too few of the building entrances were wheelchair-friendly. He'd been sitting frustrated at the base of a set of stairs to a building called Lewisohn Hall, when he'd heard a shrill whistle coming from behind him and to his right, and seen a pair of young ladies, one standing and one in a wheelchair, waving for him to come over. "Chair-friendly entrance over here!" the seated one had called out, gesturing to an unseen entrance on the other side of the building.
He'd wheeled over and introduced himself, and finally had a bit of luck; these two young ladies, Irene Johnson and Cindy Landingham, knew the students and professor who had founded the P.I.T.! They said that most of the student founders were away from campus for the holiday, gone to be with their families in Connecticut, New Jersey and elsewhere in the city. But a few of the founding students were on campus, and they'd heard that Professor MacDuff, who had helped the students by hosting the second meeting after the first one had been attacked by Quarrymen, would be coming to campus that evening to celebrate Thanksgiving with the students!
And so, several hours later, Jason was still on campus and now in the cafeteria, the dinner guest of Irene and Cindy. They were both pleasant young ladies, if rather flighty in Cindy's case, and he had to admit that it was nice to be able to talk to a beauty like Irene without having to crane his neck up to see her. Over the course of the last few hours, Irene had glossed over the accident that had resulted in her paralysis ten years ago, commiserated with Jason on the "motorcycle wreck" last summer that had led to his paralysis, and expressed her hopes that his intense physical therapy would indeed pay off someday, and get him on his feet again.
"Oh look, there's Professor MacDuff!" Cindy said as she stood up and pointed over to the east entrance to the cafeteria. Jason leaned back and craned his neck, but couldn't see whom she was pointing at; there were too many students in the way from his angle of view. So he told Cindy he'd try to see the professor later on, then returned to enjoying his Thanksgiving dinner.
The turkey was a bit dry and the mashed potatoes bland, but he'd certainly eaten worse—neither he nor his brother or sister had ever learned how to properly cook; most of their meals had come from boxes and cans—and the sweet potato casserole was just as sweet and tasty as he'd thought it would be. And he was eating in the company of two sweet and lovely young ladies; all in all, this was far better than simply spending the day alone in his room!
Macbeth surveyed the buffet table with a critical eye; over the centuries he'd developed a refined palate, and most of the dishes he could see were simply not up to par with the fare he was used to these days. But it had been mass-produced for hordes of hungry college students; really, what more could he have reasonably expected? And it wasn't as if he'd eaten like a king all his life; there had been times when a simple slice of buttered bread had been a feast… Professor Lennox MacDuff put a smile on his face, and piled his plate with a good will.
A table had been set aside for the teaching staff, but he chose instead to sit with the teaching assistants, some of whom he knew through the local chapter of the Society for Creative Anachronism. In the seven months since he'd become a member, he had already won a knight's ranking for himself by right of arms, and one of the students asked if he was already setting his sights higher. "I hear the Seneschal is planning to retire in January… or you could even compete for the Barony!"
The man who had once been a thane of Scotland chuckled at the thought. "Perhaps, young sir… perhaps. But for tonight, let us simply eat, drink and be merry!"
And they did. Though more than once the professor's meal was interrupted by other students, coming up to ask his opinion on the turmoil that had been all over the news for the last few days; the battle at the southeastern docks last Monday night, that had resulted in eleven Quarrymen dead, supposedly at the hands of gargoyles.
"Utter rubbish," he said with confidence every time he was asked. "I'm quite positive that the gargoyles the P.I.T. has met with had absolutely nothing to do with that."
He was quite careful in phrasing his reply; he preferred not to lie outright. And the words he spoke were indeed the truth; he had confirmed in a call to Xanatos shortly after it had happened that the gargoyles of the Manhattan Clan had had nothing to do with the battle, and indeed hadn't even known about it. But the students of the P.I.T. had never met Demona…
Even before conferring with Xanatos, Macbeth had known in his bones that Demona had been involved in that battle. For a period of roughly ten minutes Monday night, he'd felt faint twinges of pain here and there about his body; indications that somewhere in Manhattan, at the farthest limits of the pain-sharing aspect of the link between them, Demona was in a battle and getting hit as well as hitting. But he hadn't even bothered to suit up for battle himself; he'd figured that if she'd been in battle with the clan, the beating she was taking was an indication that they had the situation reasonably well in hand. And if she'd been in battle with the Quarrymen, he'd have been tempted to cheer them on and send for popcorn.
After he'd head the news report, he'd been concerned indeed, enough to call Xanatos and learn what the man knew about the situation. And he was still very worried that the city would still erupt in a firestorm of hatred towards all gargoyles, despite all that he and Xanatos had done since hearing the news. Xanatos had leaned heavily on every tie he had to the media, influencing them to focus more on the mystery surrounding the battle—had they been fighting the gargoyles, or gargoyle imitators?—than on the body count that had resulted from it. And in his appearance on the Night Watch show on Tuesday evening, Professor Lennox MacDuff had done his best to counter everything that the Quarrymen's leader had said to Travis Marshall and the studio audience.
Jon Castaway had shouted for justice for his slain men, and for special laws that would not only grant the Quarrymen even more license to hunt the creatures, but make it a crime for anyone to be seen helping them in any way. But where Castaway exhibited passionate fervor for his cause, Macbeth had shown only cool disdain. He'd refused to let anyone forget that gargoyle costume scraps had been found at the site. He'd speculated aloud about which ninja weapons could have caused such injuries as had been reported, pointing out illustrations from one of his personal library's books on ninja weaponry that could simulate claw slashes. And he'd repeatedly needled the Quarryman leader about why that helicopter had been retrofitted with machine guns, in clear violation of city ordnances and who knew how many FAA regulations…
This time he'd managed to keep his temper throughout the program, unlike his unfortunate televised encounter with that harridan Margot Yale nearly two months ago. Travis Marshall hadn't been too happy with him; he'd clearly wanted Professor MacDuff to display such a temper that would be guaranteed to send the ratings to a new peak. But as a result of his iron control, the Quarryman had appeared to be something close to a raving madman, while Macbeth had been the voice of cool reason. (At least, that was what some of his students who were P.I.T. members had assured him on Wednesday morning. Though the general public's opinion might well be another matter…)
Still, despite all the uproar, there was some good that had come out of all this. Since Tuesday evening he hadn't felt even the slightest twinge from Demona; confirmation that Xanatos was right, and she'd fled the country again. She was well out of the pain-sharing limits now, so not only would there be no more feeling tipsy when he hadn't had the pleasure of getting properly drunk first; there would be no more having to hide himself away at sunsets and sunrises, while she changed from gargoyle to human and back again. In keeping with the holiday spirit, that was something to be truly thankful for!
He was drawn from his musings over mincemeat pie by another approaching student, this one pushing a somewhat older man in a wheelchair. Cindy Landingham gushed, "Professor, here's another man who wants to join the P.I.T.—and guess what? He's from Scotland too!"
The man looked a bit bothered by the fuss, but extended for a handshake readily enough. "Jason Cunningham, recently from Edinburgh. Pleased to meet you!"
'Lennox MacDuff, from Elgin, several decades ago," he responded as he shook the man's hand.
Cindy looked around as her name was called by someone a few tables away, then said brightly, "I'll just leave you two to get acquainted; I'm sure you have lots to talk about!"
Cindy dashed off, leaving the two men looking at each other ruefully. Jason gave a wry chuckle as he said, "She seems a nice enough girl, though a bit…"
"I believe the slang term used these days is 'ditzy'," MacDuff finished for him. "But still, she can't be blamed for that attitude; I'll wager people back in Scotland would think the same thing when bringing together a man from New York and a man from, say, a small town in Iowa."
"Aye, you're right," Jason agreed. "Even if, besides both being born in Scotland, we very likely have little else in common…"
Crime doesn't take a holiday, and neither does the NYPD. Several members of the 23rd precinct were indeed home with their families, but still more of them were on duty for the night shift as it started.
Matt Bluestone sat at his desk and flipped through one of the many folders piled in front of him, reflecting that it was just as well that he'd traded with Reeves, a family man, to get last Friday off for the gargoyles' bachelor party. Considering this latest case for the Gargoyles Task Force, he'd be here tonight even if he hadn't agreed to work the shift in Reeve's place. No holiday for the head of the Gargoyles Task Force, until he came up with some answers for that Quarryman battle last Monday, that had ravaged the docks and resulted in eleven men losing their lives.
"Hey, Bluestone! Got a visitor… and she's packin' goodies!" someone called out jovially. Matt looked up, to see Anne Marsden making her way to his desk, carefully carrying a stacking set of trays filled with pies.
He jumped up and helped her set the pies down on a nearby table, after sweeping the stacks of files on it to one side. "You didn't need to do this, but thank you very much, from all of us," he said with a smile.
"Oh, there's more in the car; Owen's busy minding the children, so he couldn't help carry them in," Anne said with a smile. "Could you come out and give me a hand with the turkey and stuffing?"
"I'll help her, detective!" Officer Davis, one of the rookies assigned to the GTF, eagerly volunteered. "In fact, why don't I go get everything else for you, so you two can stay inside where it's warm?"
Matt and Anne traded glances, smiled and shrugged, while Davis hurried to the front of the precinct and outside. "Does everyone want to play matchmaker for us?" Anne asked with a blush, as Mat guided her to a chair by his desk.
"In Davis' case, I think he's just trying to score some extra brownie points with the boss," Matt confided. "And it's working," he added a short while later as Davis came back in with a giant foil-wrapped tray held high in both hands, drawing a small crowd of hungry officers in his wake.
Anne confided quietly that everything had been brought from the Labyrinth, where the feast was winding down, and she'd set the pies aside especially for the precinct. Matt thanked her again, then said apologetically, "I'd like to invite you to bring everyone inside and stay for dinner, but this really isn't the best place for small children to play around in…"
"Tonight it is," Captain Chavez declared as she came up to the desk, having been drawn out of her office by the wafting smell of turkey. "No rowdies in the holding cells at the moment, and we have plenty of family men who are missing their own tots right now, and would be happy to entertain yours and keep them out of trouble. I'm Captain Maria Chavez; would you be the Anne Marsden that I've been hearing about? Let me help you get the kids out of the car and inside…"
Anne went off with the good captain, so Matt shrugged and went to get a plateful of food for himself and Anne. When he saw the turkey, he blinked in surprise. The food had been set out only a few minutes ago, but the turkey was already nearly a third gone! Not only had the breast meat on the right side been cut into, but one of the legs had been taken clean off! Somebody must have been pretty hungry… but it was a massive turkey, so there was still plenty left to eat. Still, Matt claimed head-of-line privileges to get his share, before they ran out of anything.
"It's only fair, since it was his girlfriend that brought all the food," Johannsen told the others as he obligingly backed up and gestured for everyone else to back up a bit, so Matt could get at the plates and forks.
Matt paused a fraction of a second… then said with a smile, "That's right, she's my girlfriend. So you boys had better treat her and the kids nice, or you'll hear about it later…"
The missing turkey leg had been relocated to a plate of food that Davis was carefully taking up the hidden stairs, to the ruins of the clocktower.
Heinrich the German gargoyle accepted the plate of food gratefully, and listened to Davis' sketchy explanation of the holiday and what it meant for most Americans. "…And everyone takes turns saying what they've been thankful for that year," Davis finished. "Say, for instance… I'm thankful that I graduated from the Academy with such high scores, and got assigned here to the 23rd precinct. How about you; are you thankful for anything that happened this year?"
Heinrich gestured around him as he replied, "Thankful I cross ocean safely… and more thankful, very more thankful, to discover my family not alone; that there are other gargoyles! Now I only must find their new home."
"Any solid leads that Carter and I find, we'll bring up to you," Davis promised. "I need to get back down stairs, before anyone notices I'm not there. But I'll see if I can get away later, to bring you some dessert. Ever had mincemeat pie before? The pumpkin pie's probably already gone, but I'm sure I can save you a slice of mincemeat."
Wolf was pretty sure it was night outside, but he had no way of checking for himself. The special cell they'd put him in when he'd been brought in months ago was deep in the heart of Rikers Island prison, with no windows or reason to have any. The warden probably figured that if he was closer to the outside, somebody like Hyena or Jackal would try to sneak in to liberate him again.
Heh. He wished. Even before Wolf had overheard a guard say that Jackal and Hyena had been brought in on Saturday, in pieces, he'd known there wasn't much chance of those two working to spring him. The only things the two cyborgs were loyal to were money and each other, and he wasn't really too sure about that that last one. Nope, once the Pack had officially split up, he hadn't had anything to do with them, and they sure hadn't come calling on him; not even to offer him a piece of the action on that cushy job they'd landed with Cyberbiotics last spring.
Wolf had gone over every inch of his cell in the last few months, and he knew there was no way of escaping without help. The walls were rebar-reinforced concrete at least a foot thick and the door was solid steel a good six inches thick; tougher than he could handle even as he was now. The door had a narrow horizontal slot just wide enough for sliding in a meal tray, which was deadbolted closed most of the time, and a narrow vertical window-slot in the center that was less than three inches wide and filled with thick wire-reinforced glass to boot. Even the air vents were far too narrow for him to crawl into.
When he'd first been brought in, months ago, he hadn't much minded the confinement; he'd been busted up badly enough that he'd needed the quiet and solitude for recovering. That last battle with Goliath had given him a concussion, three busted ribs, a broken right wrist and a shitload of bruises and gouges in his fur. (But considering the last thing he remembered of that fight was an avalanche of junkyard cars falling all over him, he was probably lucky that he hadn't been hurt worse.) For the first few weeks, he'd just eaten what they'd given him and conserved his strength while healing.
And waiting for his tail to finish growing in… He had a wolf's tail now, big and bushy, poking out of his pants; he'd had to rip a hole in the backside of his prison fatigues to ease the pressure and let it hang out. Wolf had been damn happy to undergo the mutation therapy at first, to be stronger and tougher and like his namesake in more ways than one. But now he was beginning to wonder when it would finally stop.
But he tried not to think about that too much; instead, he thought about what he would do if he ever got out of this cell. High on his list of things to do would be to have a rematch with those damn gargoyles. He'd rather fight Goliath again, but he'd settle for any of those winged freaks. He had a hankering to find out what gargoyle meat tasted like; he had a hunch it was pretty different from chicken…
He was brought out of his thoughts by the sound of a guard outside the door. The voice came through the intercom: "Dinnertime, Wolf… and Happy Thanksgiving." The slot in the door opened again, and his meal tray came in.
Hot damn, they'd cut up an entire turkey and put it on the tray! Finally, enough meat to satisfy him! Wolf grabbed a turkey leg in each hand and started tearing into them, with little growls and grunts of satisfaction. Ahh, this was good…
When the turkey was reduced to a pile of pile of bones on the tray, Wolf burped contentedly, yawned, then curled up on his cot and went to sleep. He didn't stir for hours; though his ears twitched once or twice a short while later, when footsteps came down the corridor again. The tray slot slid open again, and the meal tray was taken away… but instead of closing immediately afterwards, it stayed open while some soft clicking sounds were heard. Wolf's ears twitched again, but he still didn't stir…