LIFE GOES ON

Meanwhile, Back in New York…

Part 3: Ugly Shades of Gray

By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow at yahoo dot com)

Standard Disclaimers and acknowledgments apply; I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.

(Author's note: This takes place three nights after the Manhattan Clan left for their "vacation" in New Orleans.)

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3.1: A Really Bad Day

Sure, he had unfulfilled ambitions and past regrets, but he knew that most people did; it was just part of the Human Condition. For the most part he was, if not entirely happy with his life, at least well accepting of it. But there were times when he desperately wished he was someone else; anyone else besides Matthew J. Bluestone, ex-FBI agent, a current member of the NYPD's Gargoyles Task Force, and secretly a friend to a clan of gargoyles and a member of the Illuminati.

This was most definitely one of those times.

In the past week, Matt Bluestone's desk at the precinct had become buried in paperwork, over half of it stemming from one explosive case that was of high interest to the Gargoyles Task Force: the deadly battle between the Quarrymen and unidentified combatants last Monday night. Eleven Quarrymen had died in that battle, while no casualties from the other side had been officially identified… until today.

Eight hours ago, early Friday morning, the superintendent of an apartment building ten blocks from the scene of battle had received an anonymous phone call, saying there was a dead body on his roof. He'd warily gone up there, and found the body of a man dressed in a dark green gargoyle costume. Less than an hour later, the police and the coroner's office were up on the roof picking up the body and collecting evidence. Judging by the amount and pattern of blood on the roof around the body, the man had been attacked and fatally wounded somewhere else, but had finished bleeding out and finally died on that rooftop.

Thanks to an ID card found on the body, they had a name for the corpse already, which had been double-checked by means of fingerprints. Igor Grzywinski, a known associate of Tomas Brod; he had been pulled in for drug trafficking but let go when nothing could be proven against him. The only witness they'd had to his activities had suddenly developed a case of amnesia… and two days after Igor had been set free again, had mysteriously developed a fatal case of bullets.

Igor had also been shot, and had likely died of a shot to the guts, but Matt now held in his hands a preliminary coroner's report that spelled out all the other wounds to the body; a few slashes from some sort of curved blade, another gunshot wound to the shoulder, and multiple severe contusions combined with electrical burns. And the costume was missing some scraps of fabric, which had been matched to scraps of fabric that had been found at the scene of the battle.

The electrical burn/bruising combination could have been done by only one weapon: a Quarryhammer. At first glance, the conclusion was obvious; this man had been in the battle with the Quarrymen, and had died as a result of his injuries. The torn area on the back of his costume between his wings was where a personal jetpack had been strapped on, and later cold-bloodedly removed by his comrades before they left him on that rooftop to die.

The 'gargoyles' that had fought the Quarrymen that night hadn't been gargoyles at all, but hardened criminals who had been planning to commit crimes while wearing gargoyle costumes. Costumes that had been made flight-capable with the aid of personal jetpacks, which had been stolen from Xanatos Enterprises a few weeks ago. But the Quarrymen had encountered them in midair, mistaken them for the real deal and attacked them as such. A deadly battle, over a stupid mistake.

It all fit…

Except for the ballistics report. The one Matt held in his hand right now, that compared the bullets recovered from the body with the ones found at the scene of battle. The ones from the scene of battle had all been fired from just two guns (a pair of mounted machine guns, recovered from the wreckage of the helicopter), and they all matched. The bullets from the corpse did not.

Matt also had additional information, that wasn't on any sheet of paper or computer anywhere in the precinct. Knowledge he wasn't about to commit to paper, either. In the first place, he knew that no one had actually stolen any experimental jetpacks from Xanatos Enterprises recently; he knew because Xanatos had respected him enough to let him know about the falsified report that had been planted in the police files, the day after the battle.

And last night he'd been at the Aerie Building again, viewing a surveillance tape that Xanatos had somehow acquired from LaGuardia Airport. (Matt suspected the Illuminati had helped him procure that tape, but hadn't actually asked.) The tape had showed Nightstone's corporate jet, preparing for departure at midnight last Tuesday night. And had showed a Nightstone company van pulling up to the jet, parking, and discharging its passengers.

Electronic enhancement of the video had shown them that two of the passengers had been clearly men, one a middle-aged Asian man and one a young Hispanic man with one hand in a cast. The other five passengers had all worn sombreros and long draping ponchos, as they'd hustled up the aircraft's ladder and hurried into the cabin. But Xanatos had frozen the video on one frame, an image showing clearly that one of the passengers had a dark green tail poking out from under the poncho… and the stranger behind him/her was stepping up with a gray three-taloned foot.

The Quarrymen had insisted that the gargoyles they'd fought had all been either dark green, light blue or assorted shades of gray in color. Xanatos had shared with Matt his own theory of what had happened that night: a small group of gargoyles had come to town, probably looking for the Manhattan Clan, and had run into the Quarrymen instead. Demona had found them, helped them defeat the Quarrymen, and afterwards took them under her protection until they could be gotten out of the country. Since the Nightstone jet had been flown to Tokyo, the gargoyles had probably been from that clan in Ishimura that Goliath and Elisa had visited, and by now they were surely back there, far out of the NYPD's jurisdiction.

And now, this body. One that would give the public an answer of sorts to their cries for justice for the slain Quarrymen… but the answer would be a lie. Matt knew in his gut, even before he'd seen the ballistics report, that Igor had been planted as a 'red herring', to misdirect the attention of the NYPD and the media away from the true culprits.

The coroner couldn't give a time of death, not after the body had been exposed to the weather for so long, but he estimated that it had taken Igor at least two hours to die of his injuries. A man—perhaps not an innocent man, but still a human being—had been cold-bloodedly murdered in a particularly cruel fashion, and apparently it had been done in order to take some of the heat off the gargoyles, who had of course been blamed for the fatalities last Monday.

At least Xanatos hadn't had a hand in this; Matt had verified that in a phone call to the man himself less than ten minutes after he'd first heard about the body. Xanatos had sworn up and down, on his honor not just as a member of the Illuminati but as a father of a young boy, that he'd had nothing at all to do with this. Matt wouldn't put much faith in swearing by Illuminati membership, considering the Illuminati's reputation for duplicity… but he knew how much Xanatos wanted to be a good role model for his own son.

So Xanatos hadn't done this, but it was highly likely that Demona had had something to do with it. They'd already had ample evidence of her bloodthirstiness, not that any of it could be presented in a modern U.S. court. She likely wouldn't hesitate to brutally murder any human, particularly if she thought it would benefit gargoyles somehow. And right now she was far out of their reach as well; Xanatos' corporate spy had confirmed that Ms. Dominique Destine had made arrangements for an indefinite stay in Japan. Trying to extradite her for questioning, considering she had undoubtedly holed up in Ishimura and surrounded herself with innocent gargoyles whose lives depended on secrecy, was absolutely not an option.

Matt wanted to throw up. He wanted a good stiff drink. He wanted to punch something or someone, so badly that his fist ached from repeated and prolonged clenching.

The common theory about how that man had ended up on the rooftop had already spread throughout the precinct, and Matt would have bet his dinner that someone had already leaked some information to the media. All he had to do was suppress this ballistics report, and the story would stand.

Instead of being hailed as martyrs to the cause of public safety, the Quarrymen would probably be derided for not having the ability to tell humans in costumes from real gargoyles. At least some of the general populace who were now convinced that the gargoyles were a deadly menace would, if not convinced otherwise, at least have some doubts. The more excitable ones who had already been caught shooting at statues in case they were sleeping gargoyles, would be apt to sheepishly put their guns aside. The Manhattan gargoyles would find the city, if not exactly safe, at least not as deadly dangerous to their kind as it had been for the last few days.

And the Quarrymen would be falsely accused of homicide, and whoever had really murdered Igor Grzywinski would get off scot-free.

The Illuminati were used to cover-ups. Matt knew only too well how skilled some of them were at misdirecting public attention and prying eyes. Martin Hacker, his former partner in the FBI, had successfully concealed his membership in the Illuminati from Matt, quietly frustrating and loudly decrying Matt's efforts to smoke the organization out for four long years; a quest that had cost Matt the respect of his coworkers and superiors, and ultimately his FBI badge. Matt knew without asking that if this business really concerned the Illuminati, instead of only the gargoyles, Martin would shred the ballistics report without a second thought, cheerfully lie his ass off to the press, and sleep like a baby afterwards.

Matt Bluestone was not Martin Hacker. After being informed (and shown rather gory photographic examples) of what happened to members--and the families of members--who ever tried to betray the organization or expose them to the public eye, Matt had reluctantly called off his quest to expose the Illuminati and bring them to justice for their involvement in organized crime. But he had sworn that other than that, he would not turn into another Martin Hacker; he would not conceal the truth or use lies and misdirection to ruin men's lives. He had ethics, dammit; he had a soul! He damn well knew right from wrong, and moreover, as a police officer he had sworn an oath to uphold the law and see that justice reigned.

He had a duty to let the public know that someone was trying to cover up what had really happened last Monday night.

But if he did, some innocent people—yes, people, dammit!—would be hunted for the rest of their lives, blamed for a crime that they hadn't committed either.

Captain Chavez had told him some time ago that he was expected to have a statement ready for the press in less than two hours. Glancing at his watch now, he knew that in just over an hour, he would be facing the cameras. And he could either tell the truth, what part of the truth that he could tell the public, or he could tell a lie.

Elisa had escaped all this mess by going to New Orleans with the gargoyle clan, although the public story was that she was in her apartment under Quarantine, having a serious adult case of chicken pox. Right now, Matt wished desperately that he'd gone south as well, but it was too late to try to fake something infectious.

The on his desk phone rang, and he answered it almost absently, still staring at the report in his hand. "Bluestone here."

He heard Owen Burnett's voice on the other end of the line. "Detective, Mr. Xanatos requests your presence immediately."

"He's got bad timing, Owen; I'm preparing for a meeting with the press in an hour," Matt said while scowling at the paper in his hand.

"Concerning the body that had been found on the roof, no doubt," came the cool reply. "This meeting will concern that as well." Xanatos' aide wouldn't say any more on the subject, and instead gave him a room number in a hotel less than three blocks from the precinct. "We are already there and waiting for you; please come as quickly as you can," Owen said before hanging up.

Matt swore under his breath, then put the ballistics report back on his desk and told his rookie Carter that he'd be back soon, before hurrying out of the precinct.

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

3.2: Meet Michael Finn

Matt entered the hotel room, one of their executive suites, to find Xanatos sitting at a desk with a grim face, a quartet of bottles, and a pair of glasses in front of him. One of the glasses, sitting directly in front of the billionaire, was half-empty already; the other was still full. "Take a seat," Xanatos invited him, waving to a nearby chair. "You'll want to be sitting down for this. And have a drink, too."

Matt sat down, but hesitated at the full glass. "I'm on duty."

"Not to worry," Xanatos assured him. "I mixed it myself, and there's not enough alcohol in it to really affect you."

The bottles on the desk were the ingredients for a Sex on the Beach, Matt's favorite mixed drink, and the vodka and peach schnapps bottles were still very nearly full. Matt shrugged, reached for the glass and took a big sip. Yes, there was just barely enough alcohol tang to be noticeable to the discerning palate; it was really a lot weaker than Matt preferred, but since he was on duty, that was a good thing. He said so to Xanatos… just before his whole world went gray and tilted sideways. And as if through a long tunnel, just as his world went completely black, he heard Xanatos say, "Weak on alcohol, yes. But then there's the chloral hydrate…"

oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo

Something had crawled into his mouth and died there, and somebody else was thumping heavily on his head to get him to spit it out. Matt groaned and tried to tell the head-banger to go the hell away and leave him to die in peace.

"If you'd care to open your eyes, you'll find water and aspirin on the nightstand," someone said softly.

Aspirin. Good idea. Lots of aspirin… Matt reluctantly opened his eyes, squinting against the blinding light, and saw a glass of water and three aspirin sitting on the nightstand in front of him. He groaningly got up on one elbow, reached out for the aspirin with a shaking hand, and downed the lot with a big gulp of water. Only then did he turn his head to find out who had been speaking. He saw Owen sitting at a desk, studying a sheaf of papers. What was Owen doing in his bedroom? …But this wasn't his own bedroom… Then memory came flooding back, and he snarled a curse as he reflexively flung the empty glass.

Owen barely glanced up as he swung his stone hand up to bat the approaching glass away. It hit the far wall, and shattered in a small explosion of glass shards. He said in a dry voice, "If you desire to throw anything else, I would prefer it if you used the pillows. Housekeeping will have to vacuum most thoroughly to get all the glass out of the carpet."

Mat responded with a long string of obscenities, which Owen stoically endured for a full minute before he pointed out, "You just repeated yourself. Might I recommend you take cursing lessons from Fox? She has a most extensive repertoire when she is inspired."

Matt started to curse again, then shut up and just steamed for a full thirty seconds before grinding out, "Why?!"

"You know full well why you were rendered unconscious, detective. You are a police officer, and a very good one. Your conscience would ultimately not let you deceive the public into believing that body found on the rooftop was a casualty of last Monday's battle, even though it is in the gargoyles' best interest that the public believe so. Mr. Xanatos is aware of your level of integrity and the internal struggle you no doubt were enduring earlier, so he endeavored to swiftly and relatively painlessly take the decision out of your hands."

Matt found some new obscenities after all, and used them to describe Xanatos' arrogance, his personal habits and aspects of his parentage.

"Mr. Xanatos presumed you would feel that way. He left a message for you, and I quote, 'If you need to work your anger out physically, I'm available after regular business hours for a sparring session, unarmed combat, any style you like. However, you'll only get one free shot.' Now, if I may continue…?"

Matt resumed silently seething, and Owen went on, "The ballistics report that was on your desk has now disappeared; it would be for the best if you did not ask how that happened. However, a copy of it has been retained in a safe place, should the need for it ever arise again. And after you were rendered unconscious, a very good voice actor called your precinct, and told Captain Chavez that you had gone out to investigate a tip of another costumed body found. And while it had been a false lead, you would now be unable to return to the precinct in time for the press conference. She had some rather unkind words for you, but agreed to host the conference in your stead, using the data that you had collected already—minus the ballistics report, of course. That press conference took place roughly thirty minutes ago, and I took the liberty of taping it for you." Owen picked up the remote for the TV and VCR, turned the TV on and pressed Play.

An image appeared on the TV screen, one that Matt was all too familiar with; Captain Maria Chavez, and not in a happy mood. He wondered how much of the anger subtly showing on her face was from Matt's seeming abdication of his responsibilities, and how much was from having to meet with the press at all (the good captain's general opinion of the press was only slightly better than Elisa's opinion, and neither were fit for voicing aloud when there were children in the area.)

Captain Chavez gave the facts that they knew about the body: his identity, the fact that he'd been injured somewhere else but had died on that rooftop, the missing scraps of fabric matching those found at the scene of Monday's battle, and the coroner's report that the body was between three and five days old (more precise dating was impossible due to exposure to the weather.)

Then she stated the theory that had already been buzzing around the precinct; that the man had been one of those combating the Quarrymen last Monday night, and no gargoyles had actually been involved after all. She stressed more than once that it was only a theory, and as such was unproven and subject to change and further interpretation… but given that the dead man was an associate of an organized crime ring, the whole case was being handed over to NYPD's Organized Crime Homicide Unit. The press conference ended with Captain Chavez grudgingly asking if there were any questions, and snapping out "No comment" a few times before declaring that the interview was over.

Matt said nothing while the tape had been playing, and now that Owen shut the machine off, he still said nothing. He just gave Owen a glare that would have done a basilisk proud.

"Your anger is understandable, detective… and so, I should think, would be your gratitude. Not that we actually expect it, of course. But in all this, your own integrity has remained intact. You have done no wrong." Just then, the phone rang. Owen answered it, and said, "Yes, sir; he is, and we just watched the tape. …Most definitely, sir." And after another short pause, he turned the phone's receiver in Matt's direction and asked coolly, "Would you like to speak to Mr. Xanatos at this time?"

Matt grabbed the receiver and said into it slowly and clearly, "I am going to kick your ass clear back to Maine."

"As I told Owen to tell you, any time after regular business hours, I'm available for a sparring session. But you only get one free shot," Xanatos said cheerfully.

"You just helped someone get away with murder"

There was silence on the other end of the line for a moment. Then Xanatos sighed and said, "I'm not proud of this, detective. And as Owen should also have told you, that ballistics report still exists; when you find more evidence that can prove who was really behind this, evidence that will not implicate innocent gargoyles by mere association, then the ballistics report will be returned. I know you don't like it, but this is what life is like in--"

"If you say 'in the Illuminati', then I really am gonna kick your ass."

"…Well, it fits there, too. But actually, I was going to say, 'in the world of big business.' Every day I make decisions that, no matter how many people they benefit, end up hurting someone else. A new factory in one town may provide the local community with jobs, but another town that was bidding for the factory won't get those same jobs for their people. A cheaper source for raw materials that lowers the cost of the end product for the consumer, means that the people who provided the raw materials before are going to lose business. A new low-cost housing development may cut down acres of oxygen-producing trees… In my world, detective, there are really very few pure blacks and whites… and a lot of ugly shades of gray."

"…I still want to kick your ass."

"Bring it on, pal. But you only get one free shot…"

END