LIFE GOES ON

Meanwhile, Back in New York…

Part 4: Unsolved Mystery, Redux

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

4.1: Surprise Encounter

Matt looked out the window of the cab he was riding in that Sunday afternoon, not really seeing the scenery he was passing; families going out for ice cream, people walking their dogs, a hot dog vendor hawking his wares. He was on his way to the Aerie Building, but he was still wondering if he shouldn't just turn around and go back home.

Sometime over the last few months, Sundays had become his time to go visit the castle. It had been just in the evenings to start with, but lately it had become his habit to go there an hour or two before sunset, and spend some time with Anne and Bethany before the gargoyles woke up. Once the gargoyles were awake, he'd say hi to them and maybe have an early dinner with them, before the first pair left on patrol. The humans and gargoyles might play a board game together, or talk about what had been going on lately, or just watch TV if there was a decent show on. And he might accept an offer to go for a short glide over the city, if the weather was good.

Last Sunday he hadn't visited, because the elevator to the castle was still been out of service after Hyena and Jackal had tried to crash the bachelor party, and he hadn't felt like slogging up 22 flights of stairs from the arboretum. And this Sunday he wouldn't see any gargoyles at the castle; they were all down in New Orleans. But he'd still been planning on going to the castle anyway; the elevator was fixed now, and he enjoyed seeing Anne and Bethany. He'd been looking forward to the visit… until two days ago.

Two days ago, he'd been jammed hard on the horns of a dilemma, concerning the latest Quarrymen case. Struggling over whether to suppress a certain ballistics report, and let the public think that the Quarrymen were trigger-happy idiots who couldn't tell people in costumes from real gargoyles… or show all the evidence he could release (all the evidence that had been legally gathered), and let the public know someone was trying to cover up the truth about what had happened last Monday. To tell the truth, which would not help the gargoyles at all, and possibly turn the city even more against them… or to lie.

But while he'd still been struggling with the decision, Xanatos had taken it out of his hands. The billionaire had lured him away from the precinct, slipped him a 'mickey finn', then somehow made the ballistics report disappear while Mat was unconscious and convinced Captain Chavez to host a press conference in Matt's place, telling the public about the dead gangster who'd been found in the gargoyle costume… apparently killed by the Quarrymen, when they mistook criminals in costume for real gargoyles.

The Quarrymen case was now in the hands of the NYPD's Organized Crime Homicide Unit. It was off Matt's desk, hopefully for good. Matt hated himself for being so relieved about it. And ever since he'd woken up in that hotel room Friday night, he'd been nursing a sullen anger against the supremely arrogant, rich bastard who'd taken that decision out of his hands. Sullen anger, because he didn't want to admit that he was almost grateful to the man. A man who happened to own the castle that Matt was on his way to…

Damn Xanatos. Matt could see now why Elisa used that phrase so often when referring to him.

That castle might be fine for the gargoyles, but it was no place for a decent woman and her innocent little girl. When he and Anne got married, he'd find a new place that---

Whoa, whoa, WHOA! Matt jerked upright in his seat. Married?! Where the Hell had that thought come from?! He hadn't even known Anne a full month yet! They hadn't even kissed yet! He wasn't about to go looking for a rabbi and a canopy already!

Oy, it was all those gargoyles, and Fox and the mutates; they were all so convinced that he and Anne were great for each other, they had even him halfway believing it! But Matthew J. Bluestone was still a footloose bachelor and lovin' every moment of it…

Well, not really loving it.

And Anne was more than just a decent woman; she was actually pretty special…

Well, today was hardly a day for making a lifelong commitment. Not when he still felt like taking Xanatos up on his offer and going one-on-one with him on the mats. The arrogant asshole had actually promised to give him one free shot! Maybe Matt wasn't a black belt in karate like Elisa, but he'd had training in boxing from an uncle on his mother's side of the family, and he knew how to lay a guy out flat with just one punch. It was really tempting to take Xanatos up on it, just to see the look on the man's face when he found himself waking up looking at he ceiling.

But Anne didn't like violence; she knew it was necessary sometimes, but she didn't want her daughter exposed to it. (The clan had already taken to censoring their patrol discussions until the little girl was tucked into bed at night.) She almost certainly wouldn't appreciate Matt taking time away from his visit with her and Bethany, to go a round or two with—

Bethany's cookies! Matt gave himself a slap on the forehead. Nuts, he'd forgotten! Every visit, he made a point of bringing Bethany another little pack of the lemon cookies she'd found in his coat pocket the day they'd met, since she liked them so much. He'd snagged a pack from the precinct vending machine before leaving work last Friday, but it was still sitting on the kitchen counter in his apartment; he'd been so bugged by the prospect of seeing Xanatos again, he'd completely forgotten about it.

Well, he had a few extra bucks in his wallet, and a little while longer before he was expected at the castle. Better a short delay than a disappointed little girl. He told the cabbie, "Gotta make a stop along the way; pull in at the nearest 7-11! Or whatever convenience or grocery store is closest."

"There's the Cho family's grocery store, just one block over," the cabbie said amiably as he flicked on his turn signal. Just a minute later, he pulled up in front of a small grocery store, asking, "Do you want me to wait for you?"

"Keep the meter running; I'll just be a minute," Matt said as he got out and hurried inside the store.

x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x-x

He was in luck; they had the lemon cookies Bethany liked! In a package about three times the size he usually brought, but he was sure Bethany wouldn't mind that at all. Anne might mind, if Bethany got too hyper from a sugar rush, but they could play tag in the arboretum or some other physical game until she was tuckered out. Matt grabbed the package and hurried up the counter, before noticing that it was unmanned for the moment. He turned around, looking for whoever was supposed to be manning the cash register, and saw two people in the back of the store, one of them a woman wearing a shawl and the other an Asian man wearing a typical grocer's work apron. Since the meter was running outside, he decided to be rude for once and interrupt them, so he could buy the cookies and be on his way.

As he trotted up to them, he saw the grocer hand the woman a cheap little child's toy and heard him say, "Here; just for your little girl, to make her feel better."

The woman was turned partially away from him, but he still heard her say with warmth in her voice, "Thank you very much; I'm sure she'll appreciate it!"

By that time he'd come up next to them, and both the grocer and the customer turned to him as he said, "Pardon the interruption; I'm in a hurry, and I just need to buy a…"

Hair shading from brown to dark honey blonde; heart-shaped face; hazel green eyes; hair tucked back to reveal a small scar on her left cheek, up next to her ear…

"You!?" After all these years… could it really be her?

Instead of asking him why he was staring at her, the woman turned and bolted for the front door.

Bad policy to do that in front of a cop, for any reason. Matt almost instinctively gave chase.

She was quick on her feet, but he had a longer stride and lots of practice in running down perps. He'd almost grabbed her sleeve when he suddenly tripped over something and went down hard, falling to the left. To the right, out of the corner of his eye, he glimpse a scared-looking Asian teenager with a staff of some sort—a broom?—just before he hit the shelf full of canned goods, and brought the whole thing crashing down.

There was a cacophony of clanging and thumping as cans hit the floor and rolled everywhere, but Matt ignored all that as he scrambled back to his feet and went after the woman again. But by the time he got to the front door of the grocery store and looked out and around, she was nowhere in sight.

"Damn!" Matt ran over to where his cab was waiting, but instead of getting in he leaned in through the open window and barked at the cab driver, "The running woman! Did you see which way she went?"

"What running woman?" the cabbie asked him with bewilderment as he looked up from a magazine.

Matt swore again, then ran back inside the grocery store. Inside, he saw the older Asian man working with the teenager to begin setting the shelf upright; they were talking back and forth in rapid Korean, and both of them looking tensely grim. When the older man saw him approaching them, he stopped what he was doing and hurried over, saying, "A thousand apologies, for the clumsiness of my nephew! I have already told him that if he is ever so careless again as to accidentally trip someone up with this broom while he is sweeping, he will be fired on the spot! Please, to apologize for the inconvenience to you, anything you might wish to have today is on the house; no charge!"

"Yeah, whatever," Matt said with an impatient wave of his hand. "That woman who was in here; who is she? Is she a regular customer?"

The man stiffened, and his face went expressionless as he said flatly, "I do not know her. She has never been in here before."

Lying. The word resounded in Matt's skull, but he made an effort to keep his voice mild as he pointed out, "I saw and overheard you before she ran; you were giving her a toy for her little girl, to make her feel better."

His face still expressionless, the grocer countered with, "She said as she was shopping that her little girl was very sick, stuck in bed. I give her a cheap trinket for the little girl, not worth fifty cents, but that makes her think that this is a friendly grocery store, and she should shop here again. Good customer service means more customers."

This guy was good. Matt shook his head in resignation, knowing he'd probably never get him to crack, then changed tactics. "Look, I really need to talk to her, but she's not in trouble, not from me; if she's who I think she is, I have some really important news for her." He scribbled his name and phone number on a piece of paper, then handed it over while pleading, "If she ever comes back again, would you please give this to her, and tell her I just want to talk?"

The grocer accepted the paper and promised he'd hand it over if the woman ever came in again. Turning away, Matt noticed the look in the teenager's eyes before the young man returned to the task of straightening up. He was not so schooled in hiding his emotions as his uncle; Matt saw the wariness, hostility, and determination… That trip-up had definitely been no accident. These people were protecting her…

Which was probably a very good thing for her, from what Matt remembered.

Frustrated, he went out to where the cab was still waiting. At least he'd gotten something good out of this encounter; the package of cookies had been on the house.

Leaning back in his cab as it headed for the Aerie Building once more, Matt pondered his next move. He'd almost forgotten about this case, but now that he'd been reminded of it, where else could he go for answers?

Martin Hacker was an obvious choice…

No. Not yet. Matt would never trust the man again, and before he went back to his former partner, he wanted to gather information from other sources first. At least enough info to know whether or not Martin was lying to him again, when they did talk.

Fortunately, he was already heading for the home of a man who just might be another source of information. Xanatos was also in the Illuminati…

To be continued…