Title: The Case of the Misplaced Bodies
Summary: LA's police are plagued with a rash of missing bodies.
Disclaimer: Premise and characters borrowed from "Angel".
Tightly packed bodies twisted and writhed in time to the blaring, pounding music, visible only in flashes, snap shots.
One man stands frozen in the throng, mouth open in an unheard scream. The crush of bodies held him upright for a time, but slowly he sank to bonelessly to the floor. Even more gradually those around him noticed. It's a stone thrown into a still pond in reverse. Movement ceases in ripples spreading out through the crowd from the fallen man. Each flash of the strobe light reveals a few less dancers and a few more confused, still forms.
Finally the pool of gawkers overflows the dance floor, spilling into other areas of the club. The DJ stops the music and the lights come up bring reality into the situation.
"He's not breathing!" A man yells. "Someone call 911."
A few of the club's patrons slipped out of the doors with fugitive expressions.
"I think he's dead," a woman said as she let the fallen man's arm flop back to the floor. "He's already cold."
Stripped of shadow and mystery the club was an ugly place. Stained concrete floors, walls of cracked and ancient paint discolored by decades of smoke.
The patrons were gone, all save one. In their place were police officers, technicians, an ME, the club's manager and a few other employees, who determinedly avoided looking toward their one remaining customer.
He lay where he had fallen; brown eyes staring, empty and vacant, at the ceiling overhead. Shoulder length muddy blond hair fanned around his head. His mouth hung open. His features and limbs were lax.
"No ID Detective, just like the others," a tech reported.
"How'd he get in here," the detective, a plain-looking man with cropped black hair asked, looking to the club's staff.
"You were manning the door tonight Rob," the manager said.
The man singled out was your stereotypical bouncer; large, shaved-head, tight tee shirt showing off impressive muscles. "I didn't want to argue with that one about ID," the muscle man admitted.
The detective looked from the two hundred and twenty plus pound bouncer to the slender twenty-something lying dead on the floor, an eyebrow arced skeptically over a flat gray eye.
"I know, I know…" Rob-the-bouncer mumbled. "There was something about that one though. He said he was more than old enough to be in here and the way he said it… I didn't want to ask questions. He must have been on something."
"We can always hope," a uniformed officer muttered under his breath. A glare from the detective sent him scurrying back to his business.
"That's all the questions I have right now," the detective told the club's staff. "Officer Richs will be taking your names and contact information in case anything else comes up, but you're done for tonight."
The office was decidedly shabby. Two men sat, waiting, one looked like a grown street tough, the other wouldn't have looked out of place at the front of a lecture hall.
The telephone's ring caused them both to start, their faces quickened with anticipation.
"Angel Investigation's, we help the hopeless," The scholarly type said, answering the phone. A brunette pokes her head in through the door and scowls irritably at the man talking on the phone.
"… a night club... The "Last Call"? Have you talked to the police?" he asks. "They weren't helpful… Of course, we'll certainly look into it."
"So?" the tough asks, as the other man hangs up the phone. "We have a case?"
"We do indeed," the scholar sounds deeply anticipatory.
"I'm phone-girl," the woman says, glaring accusingly at the scholar.
"I won't stop you from contacting Angel," he retorts.
"We can handle things without him," the other man objects.
"Come on, we said we'd give him a chance," the woman hedges.
"You said," the tough replies.
A fluorescent light flickered in the corner of the antiseptic looking room. The bulb is nearing the end of its life; it was still in better shape than most of the things it had illuminated.
The ME's assistant looked at the bag on the table, then to the armed officer sitting near the door.
"What, you think it's going to get up and attack you," the officer snorted, leaning his chair back on two legs. "Maybe you should go talk with Lockley, looks like the two of you have some common ground."
"Six members of my staff have been killed in the last two months. There's been a rash of disappearing bodies with no discernible cause of death, which appears to be connected. I think John has reason to be nervous, if you'd any sense you would be too Biggs," the short bearded ME said.
"Yeah, well, get to it," Biggs said, the legs of his chair thump noisily on the tiled floor as he straightens, one hand brushing past his holstered gun, as if he were looking for reassurance.
The ME unzipped the bag and waved over his assistant to help him lift the body onto the cold, stainless steel examination table. There's no need to concern one's self with the patient's comfort here.
The ME bent the corpse's fingers. "It's one of them," he confirmed. "There's still no hint of rigor mortis.
The college intern observing the procedure shifts restlessly. "I hope the bastard gets shot," she exclaimed.
"Samantha," the ME reprimanded gently.
"Well it makes sense doesn't it?" Samantha asked, stepping closer to the table. She gestured forcefully at the corpse. "Whoever's killing these people has to be the one stealing the bodies and when Carol got in the way they killed her too! Carol was really nice to me," she finished in a softer voice.
"You're jumping to conclusions," the ME said in a lecture's tone. "We need facts, not speculation. The MO was different. Carol and the others were violently assaulted, the missing bodies showed no overt sighs of trauma. The fact of the matter is we still don't know what killed them. The tox screens came back clean and the bodies were all taken before a more intensive examination could be preformed."
"That's probably why they were taken," Samantha theorized. "To keep us from finding out how they did it."
"It's possible," the ME admitted. "That's why we're doing a full autopsy immediately on this one. We'll begin with an external examination…"
The flickering, blood spattered fluorescent light gave the morgue room a lurid appearance.
"His gun was fired." The dark haired Detective used a pen to carefully pry open the fingers curled around the handgun's stock. "He emptied it before whatever did this ripped off his arm." He glanced across the room to where the rest of Officer Biggs' body lay. The ME was sprawled over his examination table, a hole clear through his torso where his heart used to be. His assistant was slumped in the corner; the wall above him is patterned with blood from the man's smashed skull.
"We just found the missing intern," Officer Richs said in a grave voice. "She made it up to the ground floor before the assailant caught up to her, he broke her neck, came damn close to ripping off her head."
The detective looked around the gore-spattered room again. "The next time one of these bodies comes in I want a full SWAT team here," he said. "There's definitely a connections between those bodies and our people getting killed. This is the sixth time we've lost people when one of these bodies goes missing, the other times no one was actually in this area of the building when the body disappeared. I want whatever's responsible."
"Don't you mean whoever?" Richs asked.
"No, I don't think I do," the detective replied thoughtfully.
"Is there something you wanted Detective Mave?" The precinct Captain asked when the detective walked into his flawlessly neat office.
"I want to bring Kate Lockley in on this missing bodies case," the detective replied.
"Detective Lockley was dismissed after having a nervous breakdown," the captain said, frowning as he put a pen in the cup on the corner of his desk.
Mave glanced at the floor for long moment, took a deep breath and met his Captain's eyes squarely. "What if it wasn't a nervous breakdown," he stated. "What if she just knew something we didn't."
The Captain stood up behind his desk and glared a Mave "Now you're going to start tell me how monsters are committing these murders?" he asked sardonically. "I thought you had a better head on your shoulders than to blame what you can't explain on monsters."
The detective stood his ground. "Whatever killed Biggs walked up to him and ripped his arm off while the officer was shooting at it. That means point blank range; Biggs didn't miss. Then it chased down and nearly ripped the head off a formerly healthy and able-bodied young woman before disappearing with the body of an adult man in tow. You'll forgive me if I'm not in a mood to joke about monsters right now Captain," he said levelly. "People are dying, our people. Kate may know something that could help."
"Call her," the Captain said. "But I expect sound reasoning from you." He smirks, "What would your hero say if you started chasing shadows?"
Detective Mave nodded once as he turns to leave. "A.C. Doyle believed in spirits," he said quietly. "And leaps of deduction were his creation's specialty."
"Don't make me regret this," the Captain warned.
A pile of newspapers littered the table; all of them open to the classifieds. A few ads are circled. More are crossed out.
A tired looking woman, her light blonde hair pulled back in a messy ponytail, sat in front of a computer, staring at a polite 'don't call us we'll call you' email. She signs out of her account with a groan. "I don't even know what I'm looking for," she says to herself. "I thought a change would be a good idea, but a change to what?"
She jumped at the sound of her doorbell. A slight frown creases her forehead as she glanced first at the clock then at the pool of sunlight on the floor.
"Yeah, yeah, I'm coming," she yelled moving the classifieds into a corner.
She opened the door; her eyes flickered over the man standing there. "Jeff… come to slum with the crazy?" she asked, despite her words her tone lacked any real bitterness.
"Actually this is a business call," Detective Jeff Mave said. "I hope you don't mind Kate, but I could really use your help."
Kate stepped back from the door, giving Mave room to come in. "It's really bad isn't it?" she asked.
"Ten people working on this case have been killed," Mave said. "We've got twenty-seven bodies missing from the morgue. Both sexes, multiple races, ages range from early twenties to forties, all are John Does. We don't know why they died either. These people simply collapsed in bars and nightclubs all over the city, and within six hours of dying their bodies were removed from the morgue. Whatever's taking them seems to also being killing anyone that has seen them with the bodies."
"And for some reason, something about this cases, makes you wonder about how crazy I really am," Kate said. "I shouldn't be surprised it's you that saw it Jeff. You always did love Sherlock Holmes. What was that line you were always quoting?"
" 'Once you eliminate the impossible, whatever remains, no matter how improbable…' " Jeff said with a half smile, then his face went deathly serious. "Did you ever meet Officer Biggs? He was one of the most recent victims. I looked up his records, the man was a crack shot and his gun was fired multiple times before he was killed. If we were dealing with something human he would have killed it. Instead it ripped off his arm and left him to bleed to death on the morgue floor."
"You said all the missing bodies were unidentified?" Kate asked. "Twenty-seven people, none of whom were carrying a wallet on a night out?"
"It's stranger than that," Mave said. "Better than half of them were carrying ID's that turned out to be fakes."
"Faked huh," Kate said staring piercingly at Mave.
"Several of the ID's belonged to people killed in the last few years, the rest were straight forgeries, not even good ones. I've seen high school kids with more convincing fakes," Mave explained.
"And the people killed at the morgue? Did they die of puncture wounds to the throat?" Kate asked, her eyes narrowing.
"No, why? They were practically ripped apart," Mave answered, sounding confused.
Kate shook her head, pushing a tendril of hair out of her face. "It's nothing," she said. "An old obsession I've got to shake…. Oh what the hell, I've been wanting to tell someone. My father was killed by vampires. They're real, along with almost every other thing your parents told you not to be afraid of. So its not like there's any shortage of possibilities, but I had a special dislike reserved just for vampires."
Mave's face stayed expressionless, "That's understandable, they killed your father."
"Well it's more complicated than that," Kate sighed. "But that part of the story isn't worth going into. You want to escort me down to the station? I'll go over your case notes see if anything jumps out at me. After that I should introduce you to a friend of mine, he can probably help you more than I can."
The flashing multicolored lights made it hard to see anything in the crowded club. It provided an atmosphere of anonymity, privacy in a crowd.
The tall, handsome, dark haired man with too serious eyes scanned the interior of the club then directed his companion, the brunette from the detective agency, off toward the right.
They joined her miss-matched collegues sitting at a table along the wall. "Any sign of the cult?" the woman asked, yelling to be heard over the music.
"Cordelia! Discretion," the bespectacled, neatly, almost primly dressed member of the pair at the table reprimanded her.
"Haven't seen hide nor hair," the other man answered, rocking back in his chair to put booted feet up on the table, a neon light gleamed off his shaved head. " 'Bout time you showed. I was beginning to wonder if you'd bailed," he was talking solely to the third man now, who flinched at his words.
"Parking," Cordelia explained with a dismissive wave of her hand, "We're blocks away."
"Of course," the first man said, absently straightening his glasses. "We were never really concerned."
The black man swung his feet off the table and stood. "Have fun Cordy, call us if anything shows."
"I'll see that she's safe Gunn," the woman's escort said.
"You do that," Gunn replied over his shoulder. "Come on Wes, let's blow this joint."
After about fifteen minutes of uncomfortable silence between her and her compainion, Cordelia got up to circulate around the club. The somber looking man remained alone at the table, diligently scanning the room, although his eyes tended to turn wistful and sad whenever they drifted back to the woman he came in with.
Suddenly his face twisted with pain. Rapidly he located Cordelia in the crowd. He pushed hurriedly to her side and pressed a stake into her hand.
"Vampires?" she asked staring at the stake in confusion.
"My soul," he replied. "You have to…" He trails off with a gasp of pain.
"Angel, how?" she demanded accusingly, grabbing him by the shoulder and shaking him ineffectually.
"Don't know… Please, Cordelia," Angel panted.
Cordelia pulled him on the dance floor; she pressed the stake to his chest, her eyes locked intently on his.
"Do it," Angel commanded.
"I can't, not to you, not now," Cordelia protested angrily. "Why do you have to do this to me now? Just when I thought everything was going to be okay again? Do you make a hobby of screwing up my life?"
Angel opened his mouth; his expression was both hurt and argumentative. Then his eyes slid past Cordelia to focus on some point in the distance.
Tears gleaming in her eyes, Cordelia drew back the stake. "I hate you!" she exclaimed.
"What the?" Angel asked; his tone is confused.
Cordelia paused, she watched as the light fade from his eyes leaving them empty, his features went slack and his knees buckled. Reflexively Cordelia caught him as he fell, his dead weight took them both to the floor.
"Angel?" Cordelia asked, shaking him roughly. "Angel!?"
A brown haired man knelt beside them. "Oh shit! Hang on, hang on, I took the first aid class, but I've never done it for real." He grabbed another dancer. "Call 911 and get the music turned off so I can think."
"I bet he's dead," A girl with dark red hair nature never intended for her to possess said staring down at Angel. She looked a little nauseated. "Look at his eyes."
"No!" Cordelia exclaimed. "No! No! He'll be okay. He's my brother… He has… um… narcolepsy… you know… sleeping sickness… He forgets to take his medication sometimes. Just help me get him to our car. I'll take care of everything."
The take-charge guy with brown hair set Angel's limp arm back on the floor and tilted the souled vampire's head back, searching for a pulse that hadn't existed in centuries. "Turn off the Goddamned music and get the lights on!" he yelled.
"I need to take him home," Cordelia stated, trying to tug the man away from Angel. "Everything will be fine if I can just get him to the car."
The would-be hero shrugged her off impatiently, "Someone get her out of the way," He ordered.
A woman gently, but firmly pulled Cordelia back. "The ambulance will be here soon, they'll take care of your friend sweetie," she said reassuringly.
"He doesn't need an ambulance," Cordelia insisted struggling against the well-meaning hands that restrained her. "You don't understand!"
"It's gonna be okay. I know you're scared," the woman soothed. "Is there anyone you could call?"
"Wesley and Gunn," Cordelia replied. "They'll explain to you. Angel can't go to hospital, he just can't."
Kate sat at Mave's desk in the precinct, reading his case notes. Her shoulders were pulled in defensively, her head lowered over the pages, her eyes locked determinedly on the words. Around her the station was unnaturally quiet.
"We could go somewhere else if you'd like," Mave offered.
"I still haven't decided which are worse," Kate said with a tight smile. "The ones who look scornful or the ones that pity me. Sometimes I envy them their ignorance."
"I'm starting to wish this case had never crossed my desk," Mave confided. "And I haven't even faced the monsters yet."
"At least you figured it out on your own," Kate replied. "That should spare you the whole kill-the-messenger phase that I'm seriously regretting now that it's run its course."
Mave's cell phone rung, he stood up and took a few steps back as he answered. He listened for a few minutes then sighed. "I'm on my way."
Kate looked up at him questioningly.
"We've got another body," he said. "Do you want to ride with me?"
"Sure, let me make a call first. There's someone else who should see the body," Kate replied. "The friend I mentioned earilier, he's a PI, he specializes in these sorts of cases."
Mave handed her his cell phone. "Call on the way," he said. "I shouldn't bring in civilians but I need to know what's happening."
"He'll think you're the civilian," Kate replied as they leave the station. Once she was situated in the other detective's car she dialed the number. She grimaced slightly as the answering machine picked up. "This is Kate Lockley, I've got a case you should look at. You can contact me at…" she looked to Mave for the number.
"(218) 366-5550," he supplied. As Kate repeated the number he added. "The body's at a night club called "Last Call". Downtown, the historic section, 4789 West 3rd street." Kate relayed that information as well, then disconnected and handed Mave his phone.
Mave used the rest of the drive to bring Kate up to date.
There was a police line holding back a crowd outside the club. Wes argued earnestly with a uniformed officer, Gunn hovers over his shoulder glaring angrily at the officer.
"Yes, I understand that this is a crime scene, but I was called here," Wes explained, stress strengthening his English accent.
"Wesley," Kate exclaimed, recognizing the pair. "Did Angel already get my message?" she asked.
"Message?" Wesley repeated, turning to face her. "Detective Lockley…" he trailed off his expression was guarded.
"What are you threatening us with today?" Gunn asks crossing his arms and glaring at Kate.
"Gunn," Wesley said quietly.
"I'm sorry. We got off on the wrong foot last time," Kate said. "When I called Angel, all I wanted was his help with a case. I'm done making baseless accusations, I thought Angel knew that."
"You called Angel?" Wesley asked in a confused fashion. "Cordelia called us, she was rather distraught. We've been trying to explain that we are needed inside."
Kate glanced back at Mave, making eye contact. He nodded to the uniformed officer, who stepped aside. The foursome walked into the club.
The first thing they heard was Cordelia's voice, raised in panicky anger. "I keep telling you, I have to keep that and I have to stay with him! I have to!"
Gunn hurried ahead; Wesley began to follow but slowed after a few steps, pressing a hand to his abdomen.
Cordelia stood in a circle of EMT's and police officers clutching a stake and glaring at all of them.
"You okay?" Gunn asked breaking through the circle.
Cordelia's stance relaxed as she saw him. "I'm fine, but they won't listen to me."
"Where's Angel?" Wesley asked as the other three caught up.
Cordelia pointed to another knot of activity. "He thought he was loosing his soul," Cordelia whispered to the two men. "Then he just collapsed. I don't know how this works; we need to get him chained up. You know, in case he did and he wakes up all 'Grrr'. But no pulse, not breathing, how do we explain that he could wake up at any time and it could be a very bad thing?"
"Angel's the one down?" Kate asked, joining the little group of friends as Mave moved off to get a report from the on-site officer.
Cordelia glared venomously at the former detective.
"I had a hunch that the missing bodies were actually vampires," Kate continued. "But I dismissed it when I learned that the other victims weren't being drained."
"Other victims?" Wesley asked.
"Angel's the twenty-eighth, then there are the ten people killed at the morgue when the bodies disappeared," Kate reported.
"That means this has nothing to do with his soul," Wesley commented with relief. "If other vampires are being affected it has to be something else."
"Which is great and all, but we still have a problem," Cordelia reminded them. "Namely getting Angel out of here and figuring out what is wrong with him."
"Yes, of course," Wesley stammered. He fidgeted with his glasses. "If you'd assist us Detective? Please? You know we are better prepared to deal with this sort of thing than the police. And regardless of your personal feeling toward Angel it would still be akin to torture to allow an autopsy to be preformed on him, if not murder."
Kate's posture slumped. "Was I really that bad?" she asked. "You honestly think I'm capable of that?"
"You did threaten to burn him to death," Cordelia said.
Kate flinched. "Maybe I was that bad. I guess it was well past time that I got a wake-up call."
"A lot of epiphanies going around these days," Gunn snorted.
The Hyperion's lobby showed evidence of recent cleaning, but somehow it still looked hollow, cold and abandoned.
Wesley and Cordelia paused on the threshold, looking about. "It's changed," Cordelia said quietly.
"Move out of the way," Gunn ordered. "Vamp isn't getting any lighter."
"He's really a vampire?" Mave asked as he and Gunn carry Angel into the building.
"Is there something wrong with his hearing? He keeps asking the same thing over and over again," Cordelia asked Kate irritably. "Note his complete lack of a tan despite living in sunny southern Cal for at least the past five years."
"Sorry, but it's not every night where I have to arrange for the disappearance of the corpse who's death I'm investigating," Mave replied as they deposit Angel's unresponsive form on the couch. "It tends to put me off my game a little. And that's not even considering the whole vampire angle. So what do we do now?"
Cordelia shot several nervous glances at Angel while Mave spoke.
"Do you mean now do we consult the spirit world?" Gunn challenged.
Cordelia took a deep breath and slowly stretched out her hand.
"If that's how you go about this," Mave said blandly meeting Gunn's I-dare-you attitude with cool composure.
Cordelia's hand trembled slightly as her fingers touch Angel's cool forehead.
"Come on guys we're all on the same team," Kate said stepping between Gunn and Mave, making placating gestures.
Very cautiously Cordelia brushed her hand over Angel's face, closing his empty eyes.
"We wait," Wesley said. "If the original victims are all vampires we can solve your problem by staking them before they recover, that should put an end to the other deaths. Simply touching the body with a cross is an adequate test for vampirism."
Cordelia stared at her hand for a moment, then at Angel. A choked noise escaped her throat, drawing the other's attention as she began to shake.
"Cordelia?" Wesley asked in concern.
"I thought if I closed his eyes he would look like he was just sleeping," Cordelia said. "Then I remembered that that's what they do when you die. They make you look like you're sleeping, but you're not."
"Angel will be fine," Wesley reassured her. "If what we suspect is true he'll be up and around before morning."
"Angel isn't your normal vampire, I take it?" Mave asked.
"Cursed by gypsies a hundred years ago with his soul," Cordelia recited still seeming very out of it.
Kate looked at Angel, her mouth opening in an 'o' of enlightenment. "That's when he stopped killing wasn't it?" she asked.
"Boy, you are behind in your homework," Cordelia says scornfully. "It took you a whole year to figure out what makes him different?"
"I'm not looking forward to explaining this case to my Captain," Mave commented. "We don't have a clue why people are dropping dead all over the city, but that's okay because they're vampires so we'll just stick a piece of wood through their heart and call things good."
"Not seeing your problem," Gunn said with a shrug. "Who cares why vamps are being targeted, just be glad they are. If you've got a moral problem with killing 'em look at it as taking a serial killer off the streets every time you destroy one."
"Actually we should find out why this is happening," Wesley said thoughtfully. "It could be the greatest advance in vampire slaying in centuries. We don't have the manpower to put it to good use, but I know of an organization that does. If they could recreate this effect in a controlled manner they could protect people in known hunting grounds with a single human operative."
"I think I speak for everyone if Sunnydale if I cheer for the idea of making the Bronze a vamp-free zone," Cordelia commented.
"Yes, exactly." Wesley said "The Council has been rather useless since Faith went rogue and Buffy quit co-operating with them. I'm certain they could be persuaded to arrange a plausible explanation for your superiors detective, if we offer them this in exchange."
Kate was still watching Angel. "He's proof positive that souls actually exist apart from the body, of an afterlife, isn't he?" she said. "My dad always said 'You live until you die and there's nothing more,' but Angel died and over a century later his soul was still around to be put back into his body."
As Kate stared at the souled vampire, Angel's eyes opened, simply opened, without even a single blink. He rolled to his feet, graceful, catlike, and lethal. There was a wet ripping, crunching sound as the handcuffs Mave put on him slip over one of his hands tearing flesh and breaking bones as he freed himself, yet his face is a mask, blank, lifeless.
"Angel?" Cordelia asked, a quaver in her voice.
He lunged at Kate, a blur of speed, lifting her off the floor, his good hand locked around her throat. The handcuffs dangled from his wrist, dripping with blood.
Mave jerked his gun free of its holster and leveled it at the pair.
Wesley tackled Angel breaking his grip and sending all three of them to the floor. Angel used the momentum to turn the fall into a controlled roll; he was down for less than a second.
As the vampire rose to his feet Mave shot him twice, the slight jerk as the bullets impacted Angel's body was the only sign that he'd been shot.
The vampire took two steps toward Mave only to be confronted by Gunn. Wielding a sword with comfortable familiarity, Gunn aimed a blow at the vampire's neck, attempting to decapitate him. Angel blocked the blow with his forearm, the heavy leather duster he habitually wore acting as armor and deflecting most of the damage. Then the vampire lashed out, punching Gunn solidly in the chest, sending him flying backward to impact against the front desk with a sickening thud.
The vampire's attention returned to Mave. The detective shuttered as empty eyes cut through him. Nothing in those eyes recognized him as anything but an obstacle to be removed. Mave's gun clattered to the floor as he made a desperate grab for Gunn's dropped sword.
There was a flat popping sound and Angel paused, without the slightest flicker of expression crossing his face he crumpled to the floor.
Cordelia lowered a bulky looking dart gun. "I had Willow send me one after the Rebecca Lowell incident," she commented to no one in particular. "Is it hard to get a concealed weapons permit for a tranquilizer gun, 'cause this is really something I never want to leave home without."
"So that was the evil Angel," Gunn said struggling to his feet then retrieving his sword from Mave.
"No," Cordelia disagreed.
"Looked pretty damn evil to me," Gunn argued, cautiously approaching the unconscious vampire.
"She's right," Wesley said, rising to his feet with a helping hand from Kate, he was cradling the mostly healed injury to his stomach. "One thing all the accounts agreed on was Angelus' malevolence, that he enjoyed the pain he inflicted. That wasn't Angelus, just a killing tool."
"So he can be worse," Gunn said, raising the sword over Angel. "This was still evil Angel."
"Don't," Wesley said.
"Why the hell not?" Gunn demanded. "During the past four months he showed us just how much damage he can do with a soul. He just finished trying to kill all of us. You tell me he can be worse, but I can't kill him?"
"I don't want to kill him," Cordelia said. "I want things like they were."
"Ain't gonna happen," Gunn replied.
"I'm not fond of the idea of killing him out of hand either," Wesley sighed. "He's saved us too many times, gave Cordelia and I both a secure foundation to build on. Things have been bad between us lately, but I still owe him some loyalty and it's all irrelevant anyway. We need him alive."
"Why?" Gunn asked.
"We need to find out what happened to Angel. His lack of reaction to pain, his absence of expression are eerily reminiscent of the zombies we faced a few weeks ago. I find the thought of an army of zombified vampires extremely alarming. Can you imagine the damage a group of creatures with a vampire's strength and speed, utterly dedicated to a goal, with no instinct for self-preservation could cause?"
"It would be the Scourge all over again," Cordelia said, dread thick in her voice. "I'll get the chains. Make that a whole bunch of chains."
"The who?" Gunn asked as Cordelia hurried off.
Books heavy with age lay scattered, piled haphazardly about the lobby.
Wesley read a few pages in one then set it aside in favor of another. His movements were focused, purposeful. He took a few notes before absently tucking his pen back behind his ear and diving back into the pile of books for another source.
Gunn flipped through his text restlessly, stopping every few minutes stretch, or just to fidget.
Mave leaned over the tome he selected hours ago, giving every sign of being totally enthralled by the new world opening up before him.
Kate glanced up at the stairs every few minutes, only pretending to read. She was the first to notice Cordelia's return. "How is he?" Kate asked.
"Not interested in eating," Cordelia reported.
"Which lends credence to my theory," Wesley said, not looking up from his latest find. "He hasn't eaten in days, he should be ravenous."
"I wonder where they go," Mave commented, setting aside his book.
"What?" Gunn asked.
"The effected vampires," Mave explained. "They aren't walking about the city on random killing sprees, that would be noticed. Angel attacked us; the other people killed when the vampires regained consciousness were all presumably in the room where the body was being kept at the time. They're killing anyone who sees them apparently rising from the dead. Then they disappear. They must go somewhere."
"You're thinking that if we let Angel go he'll lead us to them," Kate said.
"I'm thinking we should knock him out again, wire him up with a homing beacon and not be anywhere near him when he wakes up. I doubt he'll kill if there's no one to see him rise," Mave theorized.
"So what happens when we find the lair?" Gunn asked.
"Most spells require a physical focus," Wesley pointed out. "If we could smash that it should break the spell."
"And turn loose almost thirty pissed off vamps," Cordelia commented. "I'm against breaking the spell."
"Could we take over control of the affected vampires somehow?" Kate asked.
"Possibly, or if we could drop them back into an inactive state such as when they're first enchanted," Wesley said polishing his glasses thoughtfully.
"If we could make them unconscious again we could catch the wizard in possession of the missing bodies," Mave stated. "I like it."
"If he's caught with the bodies, you'll probably be able to make murder one stick," Kate said.
"Except killing vampire; which he isn't even doing; isn't murder," Cordelia commented. "They're already dead."
"The people who were killed by the vampires while they were under this spell were alive," Mave replied. "He's as responsible for those deaths as surely as if he'd used a gun."
"And after you get your evidence on the spell caster, we quietly stake the vamps, twenty-some less blood suckers roaming the streets," Gunn added.
"Except for Angel," Cordelia said.
"Didn't say that," Gunn replied coldly.
The building looked deserted. The twenty-nine vampires, including Angel, standing about like statues made of flesh didn't make it feel any more lived in.
After several days of watching the place; Mave and Kate called it a stake out; Gunn called it casing the joint and smiled every time his terminology made the detectives wince; they knew the routine.
The sorcerer, a mousy looking man with a nasal voice and bitter eyes never left. He sent a few of the vampires out on various errands. They brought him supplies, food, money, whatever. They set up the spells to ensnare other vampires, but the majority seemed to act as bodyguards.
There were vampires posted at all the building's egress points. Silent, motionless sentries. You'd never notice them unless you were looking. Vampire seemed to have a natural talent for lurking and this group's petrified stillness only made them more invisible.
Angel had been stationed in the shadows around the front entrance with two other vampires when he first arrived and hadn't moved since. None of the vampires moved unless it was to perform a specific task.
During the second day spent observing the place Cordelia had commented, "I know they're just vampires, but would it kill him if he had them stop by the butchers and pick-up some blood for themselves when they get his food?"
That had been three days ago. Now they knew everything they needed to. They knew where the vampires were and what caused them to react, they knew what the focus of the spell was; an ugly little statuette; and where to find it; a windowless room near the back of the building. They even had a plan for getting it and bringing it into the safety of the sunlit street to give them time to reset the spell to its initial stage.
The zombified vampires were good at following orders, too good at it. That was the key to the plan.
"Ready?" Gunn asked. Wesley, Mave and Kate nodded. Cordelia hefted her crossbow. They arrayed themselves around the side door. Gunn began strolling casually along the alley; they knew the two vampires guarding the door would ignore him as long as he ignored the door.
Wesley and Mave sent radio controlled toy cars toward the door. Kate held hers in reserve, while Cordelia aimed her crossbow at the empty door.
As the first toy car crossed the threshold the vampires reacted. They had no choice, their orders were the same as those given to Angel; destroy anything that enters the building without permission.
Cordelia shot the first vampire to step out of his protected nitch to attack the car. Gunn was even with the door as the second car entered, without the slightest hesitation, despite the ashes of his partner, which were still floating gently toward the ground the second vampire leaned down to grab the electric intruder. He completely ignored Gunn; the car was in the building Gunn wasn't. According to the vampire's orders the car was the greater threat. Gunn's sword flashed in the afternoon light as he drew it, stepped into the shadows and cleanly decapitated the second sentry.
Hurrying, Gunn kicked down the door and charged in, the statue was barely three meters down the hall; the next closest vampire was five meters away. It could have easily cut Gunn's escape off, but the door he entered through wasn't that vampire's concern, not until he had received new orders.
Gunn has the statue and was on his way back as the vampire turned. You'd think it would be stiff, it had been days, possibly weeks since it last moved, but vampires aren't alive, those rules didn't apply. One moment it was doing a perfect impression of a statue and the next it was flowing into smooth movement, scanning the halls behind it with a predator's sharp eyes.
It attacked Gunn the instant it saw him. It was obvious this one's new orders were considerably more vague, it chose instantly between Gunn and the car Kate sent in to distract it.
Gunn quickly deposited the statue in a coat pocket and took a two handed grip on his sword as the vampire charged him.
The vampire caught Gunn's blade in mid-swing, its fingers were half severed by the impact but it still jerked the sword from Gunn's hands. It grabbed the lapel of the duster Gunn wore with its good hand and pulled him toward it, loosing its human seeming as it did so. The hunger radiating off the creature was practically tangible.
Then it was dust, Cordelia waved cheerfully from the doorway as she lowered her crossbow. Gunn tossed her a grateful smile as he reached the safety of the sunny street.
In the shadowed alley behind them the vampires slowly gathered. After a few moments the sorcerer appeared in the doorway. He glared angrily at the quintet in the street.
Wesley took the statue from Gunn and began laying out the components for the spell that would transfer control of the zombified vampires to him.
"You ten, go kill them," the spell caster commanded, waving a group of vampire forward.
"It's daylight stupid," Cordelia jeered. "They'll just burn up out here."
"Not fast enough to save you," the sorcerer replied with a nasty smile.
And then the vampires were attacking them. Cordelia shot the lead vampire with her crossbow then paused to reload as Gunn, Mave and Kate formed a protective barrier between Wesley and the approaching vampires.
The vampires were smoking, bursting into flames, as they fought, but the spell caster was right, they weren't dying quickly enough. Still their numbers were decreasing.
The sorcerer waved another group forward. They were safe from the sun in the shadowed alleyway, but not from Cordelia's bolts. She picked off two more before they could reach the street and selected a third target only to realize that it was Angel. "Wesley, chant faster!" she yelled back to the ex-watcher, jerking the crossbow to a different target.
Gunn staked one of the vampires that made it to the street, but not before it's touch managed to catch Mave's jacket on fire. Kate grabbed the burning coat by the back of the collar and stripped it off the detective before the flames could spread. She stomped it out as Mave and Gunn moved to the edge of the shadows, unwilling to fight any more fire-laden vampires.
Seeing Angel about to join the fray Gunn yelled to Wesley "Just smash the damn thing!"
Wesley glanced up from his spell to see Kate trying to knock Angel out rather then killing him. Without hesitation Wesley picked up the statue and hurled it to the ground.
The vampires stopped advancing, for a few moments they simply stood there, then they began retreating back into the deeper shadows. With an unconcerned shrug Cordelia picked off two of the retreating vampires before they could make it back to the building.
"I'm sorry" Angel said, releasing Kate as he moved away from the sunlit street.
"Not your fault," she replied with a half smile.
"I'm still sorry, about earlier too," Angel said with a nod toward the ring of bruises his hand left around her throat.
"You remember that?" Wesley asked.
A thud followed by a pained yelp drew their attention back to the building. A vampire was holding the spell caster by the back of his neck, blood poured down the man's face, curtsey of the damage he'd sustained when his head was rammed into the door frame.
The other vampires were drifting closer, circling like wolves. Many had lost their human appearance at the first scent of blood in the air. Angel took two steps toward the group before visibly shaking himself.
"I'm guessing I won't have to worry about loosing the evidence against this guy," Mave commented.
Angel closed his eyes for a moment, when he opened them again he looked more controlled. "I can't just let you kill him," he said to the vampire.
"Even you can't justify saving this one, Hero," the vampire replied. "You know what he did to us. He made us his toys, his puppets. I'd rather be dust than some human's plaything. I'm in a generous mood, your friends wouldn't freed us if not for you, I'll let you go."
"Don't do me any favors," Angel replied darkly. "You know who I am, who I was. I don't need your generosity. Let the human go and I'll let you walk."
The vampire twisted the spell caster's head sharply; eliciting a snapping noise then let the body fall to the ground at his feet. "Ooops, I guess we've nothing to fight over now Angelus."
"You're still here," Angel said.
"Ahh… Angel, I'm still counting three to one against us," Wesley pointed out. "Perhaps now would be a good time to simply go home?"
"I can't," Angel replied.
Behind them the vampires had fallen hungrily on the body of their erstwhile capture, literally ripping him apart.
"This is stupid Angel," Cordelia snapped. "Haven't you had enough vengeance fun with Wolfram and Hart?"
"It's not that," Angel replied. "I can't come with you right now."
"Sure you can, we'll drive the car closer, and you still keep blanket's in the trunk right?" Cordelia said.
"No!" Angel protested. "It wouldn't be safe. It's been to long…" His gaze stayed back to the frenzy around the remains of the sorcerer. He took a few steps closer.
"Why wouldn't it be safe?" Cordelia demanded. "You've dealt with more sunlight than that."
One of the vampires ripped the spell caster's arm from its socket, blood sprayed into the air as it jerked its prize out the fray. Some of the blood splattered on to Angel's face. He absently collected it with his fingers then, realizing what he was doing, stopped.
"You're just being stupid and stubborn and you're gonna get killed," Cordelia shouted angrily at Angel.
He turned back to face her. "Not safe for you," he said, deliberately sucking the blood from his fingers. The looked on their faces are distinctly uncomfortable, and Angel's expression immediately became remorseful. "I'm sorry," he said, "But it's really not safe. It's been better than a week."
"Okay, we get the picture," Gunn said. "Meet us back at the office, after you've taken care of a few things."
The humans turned and left.
Cordelia stood near the Hyperion's entrance. Gunn was leaning against the front desk, sharpening his sword trying to look casual. Wesley paced in front of the stair leading down from the entrance.
"Angel should be back by now," Cordelia said angrily. "We shouldn't have left."
"What were we supposed to do?" Gunn demanded. "He told us he wasn't safe… Hell, to go to all the trouble of saving him only to have him get killed cause he hadn't eaten recently." His tone was regretful
"Angel can handle himself," Wesley replied uncertainly. "He'll be fine."
"It's been over an hour since sunset," Cordelia pointed out worriedly. "Maybe we should go look for him."
The door swung open. "Angel!" Cordelia squealed, giving the dark haired vampire an impulsive hug, then backing off quickly. "You've eaten right?" she asked.
"You're all here," Angel said, sounding startled. "I went to the office. I thought you all had already left."
"We figured you'd come here first," Gunn replied, as if it were meaningless, as if they hadn't been waiting anxiously to see if Angel would make it back.
"We were worried," Wesley added.
"You were?" Angel asked, surprised and pleased.
"Well duh," Cordelia said. "You are our friend even if you have been a jerk lately."