LIFE GOES ON
Meanwhile, Back in New York…
PART 6: KEEPING WATCH
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow –at- yahoo dot com)
Standard disclaimers and acknowledgments apply. I'm not making a dime of profit; please don't sue.
Author's note: This story takes place on the Tuesday after Thanksgiving of 1996; seven nights after the Manhattan Clan left for their vacation in New Orleans.
New York in the last days of November is cold. Even when the sun shines, the air is still chill enough that breath comes out in white puffs, and goes back in with just enough of a bite to make the average person move just a little faster to get indoors. And when the fog rolls in, or the sky is overcast with clouds that promise snow, the damp air feels colder still.
But Macbeth had lived in far colder climes. He'd been raised in the highlands of Scotland, and in his journeys over the centuries he'd wandered to far more inhospitable places, even the frozen wastelands of Siberia. And this time, he was well-prepared for the cold. Under his ragged and dirty outer layer of clothing he wore a full set of thermal underwear; one of L.L.Bean's finest, good for temperatures of up to 30 below zero.
His cap, gloves and boots were also made for extremely cold or wet weather, though the casual observer would surely notice only their seemingly poor condition; he'd deliberately scuffed the boots by kicking a good-sized rock around his garden, and smeared oil onto the cap and the backs of the gloves to stain them before taking his post. To all outward appearances, he was just another bum shivering in the cold, but in reality he was toasty warm and fairly comfortable. He had to remember to occasionally shiver and clap his hands together, for the sake of passersby.
He was somewhat amused that in just sitting there on the corner, without putting out a begging cup or sign asking for help, he'd already received two dollars and fifty cents in change, and a baloney sandwich from a passing worker's lunchbox. He'd accepted all the offerings with humble gratitude, remembering the times centuries past when he had indeed been reduced to begging in the streets. Even when it isn't needed, one should never fail to appreciate the kindness of strangers.
He ate the baloney sandwich--it was actually quite tasty--and put the money in his pocket with the silent promise that when his vigil was over, he'd deposit it in the nearest Salvation Army collecting kettle, with a thousand percent interest. But in the meantime, he sat and watched, and listened, and waited for the first signs of trouble.
Not thirty feet in front of him, at his post on the docks of Manhattan's eastern shore, there lay a few dark stains on the pavement. The cleanup crew had been by hours ago, but hadn't been able to remove all traces of the oil and hydraulic fluid that had been spilled there last night. But they had swept up and bagged for disposal, the bits of gravel that had been scattered throughout the mess… entirely unaware that what they had been cleaning up were the mortal remains of a gargoyle, Brentwood of the Labyrinth Clan.
Macbeth had been on the scene even before the cleanup crew had started their labor, and he'd had to bite his tongue at the way the men were brusquely sweeping up and bagging those remains, all the while complaining about having to get up so early to clean the mess up before the EPA had hissy fits. Would they have handled human remains with such irreverence? But the men hadn't known what they were truly dealing with, and Macbeth had known better than to enlighten them. And besides, Brentwood himself was long since past caring; if there was a happy afterlife for gargoyles, he was surely there already, being treated at least as well as he had ever been treated in his short and tragic life.
Macbeth knew that even as the cleanup crew had been working, another crew had been working as quickly and quietly as possible just a few yards away. People from the Labyrinth, under Talon's supervision, blocking and sealing shut that hidden entrance to their world below the streets. After the tragedy of last night, it would never be used again, by any of the Labyrinth dwellers.
Macbeth was out there to ensure that entrance was also never used by the Quarrymen. When he'd been notified of the events at midnight last night, he'd immediately seen the wisdom of posting a guard on the outside, to ensure that no one discovered the hidden entrance before the permanent seal had cured and set. The cleanup crew had no reason to be curious about a possible hidden entrance built into one of the warehouse walls… but the Quarrymen surely did.
Brentwood wasn't the only one who had died in that alley the night before. A full seven Quarrymen had died there as well; six of them had been killed by Delilah, with the leader's own gun, and the seventh had died when Claw had overloaded and blown apart his Quarryhammer. Two of the Labyrinth dwellers had worked very quickly in the aftermath of the battle, doing their best to remove all traces of it and spilling the oil and hydraulic fluid over what couldn't be quickly mopped up. But they hadn't been able to do anything about the eighth Quarryman; the one who had run away when the shooting had started.
When Macbeth had received the news, he'd donned his shabbiest set of clothes and an assortment of weapons, then left his home and headed there as quickly as possible, stopping only to scuff his boots and roll around in the garden to get the clothes dirty and even shabbier-looking. He'd parked his car two blocks away and ran the rest of the way on foot, worried that he might be too late and the Quarrymen would already be investigating the scene, searching for the gargoyles that had killed their comrades.
But he'd been fortunate; the alley had been empty, except for two men who, though they'd been wearing dark clothing, were not Quarrymen. They never spoke a word to him as they hastily hammered sheets of plywood into place on one of the warehouse walls, directly across from the hidden entrance; covering what Macbeth recognized from long experience as gargoyle talon-marks. They'd finished hammering the last sheet into place barely a minute after he'd entered the alley; then one of the men had silently turned to face him and given him a challenging stare while the other had whipped out a can of spray paint and sprayed a few words and a quick sketch of a spider onto the boards.
Macbeth had recognized what they'd been doing; trying to make it look as if the boards had been there for a long while, instead of just recently hammered into place. The guise wouldn't stand up to a close inspection; the boards were fresh and new, not weathered at all, and a peek at the wall behind them would show no differences in coloration that would normally result from being protected from the elements. But if the alley never received more than casual glances from passersby, perhaps it would work.
He'd given a grim smile as he'd suggested aloud, "Try writing 'George Rules', then cross out the word 'George' and write the word 'New' above it." (Not that he imagined anyone would actually grasp the reference to the American Revolutionary War...)
Both men had stared at him for a moment; then the first nodded to the one wielding the spray can, and in a few seconds the suggested message was emblazoned on the plywood. Their task completed, they had then packed up their ladders and tools and climbed into an unmarked van and driven away, all without saying a word; leaving him to begin his vigil in silence.
Owen Burnett had come by once, just minutes after the vigil had begun; he'd given Macbeth a radio "panic button", with which he could summon help from Xanatos and the castle's Steel Clan if need be. Owen had also arranged for someone to pick up Macbeth's car, as well; once his vigil was over, Macbeth would find it in the Aerie Building's underground parking garage.
Father Sullivan had been by more often, four times since Macbeth had begun his vigil; the priest brought with him supplies of hot coffee and food, and any news he had learned since the last visit. He'd done Macbeth the favor of calling Columbia University, to let them know "Lennox MacDuff" was ill and would not be teaching classes that day.
Macbeth both respected and liked Father Sullivan; a priest who had also been a warrior in his youth, and remembered the lessons of war without letting the experiences harden his heart. And the most open-minded man of the cloth Macbeth had ever met in all his years; the only priest who truly accepted gargoyles as fellow beings worthy of respect. One who accepted them enough to perform a wedding between members of two different species! The castle priest back when Macbeth had ruled in Scotland, would have had an apoplectic fit at the very thought of it.
Macbeth had first met the priest two Saturdays ago, at Goliath and Elisa's wedding. He'd been curious enough about the priest to attend his church's late Mass the next morning. And had appreciated the service and the man conducting it well enough to not only go back the next Sunday, but go to Confession afterward. Father Sullivan had said later that had been the start of the most amazing conversation he'd had in years, and that included the night he'd learned about the gargoyles. When Macbeth had begun by admitting that it had been roughly a hundred and fifty years since his last confession…!
After Confession, Father Sullivan had invited him to the rectory for tea, to continue talking in a more casual setting. Macbeth had given the priest the broad strokes of his life and his journeys, and his ties to the gargoyles. In the course of that conversation, Macbeth's extensive training in the arts of war had come up more than once, which was likely one of the reasons why Father Sullivan had immediately thought of calling him when the priest had been notified of the tragedy late Monday night.
Macbeth agreed that of any of the gargoyles' allies, he was the best choice for this post; the spell of immortality ensured that any wound the Quarrymen could give him would do no permanent damage. And over the centuries, he'd learned not only how to kill with ease, but how to fight without killing. The Quarrymen were enemies to the gargoyles, but surely most of them had been duped into that by the smooth lies and damning rhetoric from the mouth of Jon Castaway, and Father Sullivan had begged Macbeth to fight without killing if he could.
To that end, Macbeth had equipped himself with a quartet of Tasers, stashed in various places in his rumpled clothing, and secured a pair of riot batons inside his sleeves where they could be retrieved in an instant. He also carried his favorite laser pistol, though he hoped it wouldn't be used for more than scare tactics. But so far, nearly sixteen hours after he'd assumed his post, he hadn't had to draw any weapon or even make a fist. It seemed too good to be true, but the Quarrymen evidently knew nothing about last night's battle, or at least not enough to know where to begin looking for their casualties and the ones who had caused them.
What had happened to that eighth Quarryman, then? News such as he'd had to share wasn't something a man would wait nearly a full day before reporting. Therefore, he'd been prevented from reporting, probably permanently… Perhaps Delilah had wounded him with a stray shot, and he'd bled out and died shortly after leaving the scene. But the Labyrinth folk were quite sure that one man had escaped the battle unscathed. If so, what had happened to him?
He was drawn from his musings by the sight of a pair of ragamuffins, two young boys, who had sidled into the alley. "The poor will always be with you," he muttered to himself as he saw the ragged state of their clothing. One poor lad's shoes didn't even match.
But that was odd… the clothing was patched in many places, but every patch he could see seemed to be very well made, sewn with both care and skill. And the boys' faces were not only clean, but lacking the hollow pinched look of those who never got enough to eat. The lads might be poor, but they were very well cared for.
And they were staring at the same stains in the pavement that Macbeth had been keeping vigil over for the last sixteen hours. Staring like they knew what had happened there…
Ach, boys were the same in every century and all the world over, weren't they? These ragamuffins were obviously from the Labyrinth, and had sneaked up past the guards at the entrances to see the spot where a gargoyle had died; filled with the same morbid curiosity that every boy had until the world taught him better. Macbeth shook his head, before putting his fingers to his mouth and giving a shrill whistle.
Both the lads jumped at the sound, then turned towards him and eyed him apprehensively. He peremptorily waved them over to where he was sitting, and they sidled up to a point about five feet away, to stop and stare at him with wary eyes.
"You lads need to get back down below," Macbeth told them sternly. "There's no trouble here at the moment, but this is no place for young lads to be hanging about."
Both boys nearly jumped a foot into the air, and stared at him with eyes wide as saucers. One of them squeaked, "Y-you know about below?!"
"Of course I do," Macbeth said with a raised eyebrow. "I was down there not ten days ago, though it's not surprising that you don't remember me, with all else that was going on. Och, don't worry about me telling the father on you; I was a boy once, long ago, and I remember what t'was like. But this is still no place for you to be, not today and not for a long while yet. Now get on home, before the sun sets!"
The boys continued staring at him, until he impatiently waved them away; then they took off like all the devils in Hell were nipping at their heels. Macbeth nodded to himself with satisfaction, then settled back to wait and watch once more.
Soon afterwards, just before sunset, Father Sullivan came by again. He handed over a fresh thermos of hot coffee and some sandwiches, as he asked if there had been any sign of trouble at all.
"None yet… but another Quarryman van passed by not ten minutes before you arrived," Macbeth told him. "That's the fourth pass I've witnessed since taking my post. They may not know the exact spot the battle happened, but they know it's in the area."
Father Sullivan nodded, as he handed over the evening edition of the New York Times. It was turned to an article on the missing Quarrymen; their leader Castaway stated that they had not been heard from since their last radio contact at eight o'clock the night before. The team leader had reported they'd found a likely "infestation site," and were setting up an ambush. The Quarrymen's dispatch operator had asked for the team's location, so he could send a backup team, but the leader had cut off the transmission before replying.
Macbeth nodded sagely. "Aye, I've seen that before. Warriors who fight for glory, instead of survival. A wise man knows that backup is always a good idea. But this one wanted to handle it with his own team, to reap all the glory for himself…"
"And he paid the highest price for it," Father Sullivan said with a weary nod. "I'm about to go below now, to be there for the gargoyles when they wake up. How much longer do you feel you can remain alert at your post? Surely you'll need relieving soon…"
"I should be good till at least midnight," Macbeth said with assurance. "I learned long ago that the immortality spell gave me increased strength and stamina as well. Around midnight, another one may come and assume the watch, but if he comes with a blanket or two I'll curl up nearby, to be woken in an instant if the worst happens. Och, don't worry; I've slept in worse places and conditions," he added when it looked like Father Sullivan was about to protest. "This is easy as castle living, compared to what I and my troops went through back in World War I."
Father Sullivan nodded in acceptance, before hurrying off to get down to the Labyrinth. Macbeth wondered idly if the young lads who had come by earlier would feel guilty and confess to the priest and the Labyrinth's leader that they'd been there as well. He was sure that if they did, Father Sullivan would also remember his own boyhood antics and understand the impulse.
Macbeth wasn't too sure how tolerant Talon would be of the lads, however. Father Sullivan had told him earlier that most of the Labyrinth's exits were now temporarily sealed and guarded against possible Quarrymen discovery. The fact that two young boys had easily found a way to sneak past the sentries, would likely make Talon very unhappy. But if there were that many holes in their security, then Macbeth should have said something about the boys' appearance after all… Macbeth shrugged, mentally set the matter aside until the priest's next visit, and resumed waiting and watching.
The sun slowly set, painting the sky in vivid hues. Roughly an hour afterwards, Macbeth felt something like a prickling on the back on his neck… that indefinable feeling he'd honed over the centuries, a feeling of being watched. He gave a slow, seemingly casual glance around, but saw no one approaching or loitering nearby… but the feeling persisted.
A few minutes later, a man came into the alley. An elderly man, in at least his seventh decade if Macbeth was any judge. Gray-bearded, walking slowly with the aid of a cane, and dressed in a gentleman's three-piece suit; looking decidedly out of place in this rough area.
The gentleman walked through the alley, seemingly not looking at Macbeth at all, but the ancient warrior was not at all surprised when the gentleman paused in his steps not five feet away, turned to look at him and said mildly, "Chilly tonight, isn't it?"
"There'll be frost everywhere come morning," Macbeth agreed.
"I do beg your pardon, but you seem somewhat familiar. Have we met?" the gentleman asked.
"It's possible; I've been around for quite some time," Macbeth said with deliberate vagueness.
The gentleman looked around the alley, then asked with seeming innocence, "This is your chosen home, then?"
And if he said 'yes' to that, he'd be lying, and surely he'd be called on it. So Macbeth said only, "No, I rest my head elsewhere." And then, because he was fairly sure that this man was no Quarryman, he said, "Perhaps we have a mutual friend. Do you know a Father Sullivan?"
The gentleman gave a start of recognition. "Ah, yes, Father Sullivan! A good man of the cloth, who sees more keenly with his one eye than most men with two."
"That's the one," Macbeth agreed, relieved. He had no doubt now that this man was another of the Labyrinth residents, who had donned his best suit and come up to pay his own respects at the site of the tragedy. "So if you know him, then we likely met at the wedding ten days ago." Macbeth looked away, seemingly staring at the stain on the pavement but really looking into his memories, as he murmured, "That was a truly joyous occasion… I saw Brentwood then; saw him smiling, and laughing with his brothers and sister. It's good to know he had some happiness in his short life."
The gentleman nodded slowly. "May that thought be of some comfort to all."
"Aye. By the bye, I'm called Lennox MacDuff."
"Jacob Wells," the gentleman said with a respectful touch to the brim of his hat. "Pleased to meet you properly… though I could have wished for more pleasant circumstances."
Macbeth nodded, then lowered his voice to a whisper and said, "Jacob, be a good man and take a quick look up behind me; I've a hunch we're being watched from the rooftop."
Jacob blinked at him, then gave a quick glance up behind him. After a moment, the gentleman lowered his eyes and said just as quietly, "I saw nothing."
Macbeth sighed. "He likely retreated just as you looked up… but he's there; my instincts do not lie, not after all these years of living. Well, perhaps he feels the need for his own vigil, for grief or penance or both."
Jacob looked at him strangely. "He… who?"
"One of the brothers… or perhaps Claw, the silent one. I was told he had his own unwilling part to play in last night's tragedy. Not all who look fearsome are warriors, and for one who hasn't a warrior's heart, dealing death even by accident is a heavy burden to bear." After a brief pause, he asked, "Do you know the silent language… ah, sign language?"
"Good, then you can translate for me if 'tis Claw. And whether it's him or one of the brothers, I've some words of wisdom our watcher might be needing to hear." And with that, he stood up, looked over his shoulder and raised his voice to call out, "You can come on down, lad; the area is safe enough for now."
Jacob made some strangled sound in his throat, but Macbeth ignored that as he gestured peremptorily up at the rooftops, much like he'd done earlier to the ragamuffins who'd come gawking. "Come on, be a good lad… don't keep us waiting…!"
After a few moments, a shadow loomed over the edge of the nearest roof. Macbeth gestured more emphatically, and the shadowy figure swung over the side and began descending down the side of the warehouse.
It took Macbeth a moment or two more to notice that the figure was wearing a cloak, not bearing caped wings.
But a thousand years of living, of facing down enemies of every caliber and boldly bluffing to those who were simply too inquisitive, had given Macbeth iron control over his expression when need be. So when the cloaked figure approached but stopped a good ten feet away, Macbeth kept a perfectly straight face and said simply, "So what brings you here?"
"He is with me," Jacob said unexpectedly, in a voice of steel. "He is my son."
Macbeth glanced at Jacob in surprise. From what Macbeth could see, there certainly wasn't much family resemblance…
"We had heard that there was a stranger up here who claimed to know of our world and of myself, personally," Jacob continued. "I came up to see if you were someone I once knew, and he came along to watch over me. And it's all right," he said now to the cloaked figure, "It seems he's a member of the other community, and a friend of Father Sullivan."
The cloaked figure's voice was raspy. "Ah… 'the father', of another sort."
Jacob addressed Macbeth again. "The community you call home is not the only one that dwells beneath the city streets. But most of your people are unaware of mine as of yet; there is still some element of concern over indiscretion. Not all secrets are ready to be shared."
Macbeth slowly nodded, seeing no need to correct the impression that he himself was a full member of the Labyrinth community. Instead, he said, "If it's my silence you need, you shall have it. So long as your intentions are benign, of course."
"Utterly benign," Jacob assured him. "So… you are up here to keep vigil for your departed friend?"
"Aye, and to keep watch against intruding Quarrymen," Macbeth admitted. "There was a hidden entrance to the Labyrinth in this alley; it has been sealed now, but there is still some risk that it might be discovered before the seal sets… by men caring only to avenge their fallen friends, and not about innocent lives at risk."
Jacob slowly nodded. "How long will the vigil be, then? How soon will the seal be hardened and set?"
"From what Father Sullivan told me, they expect it to be set firm as can be before dawn tomorrow," Macbeth relayed. "After that, there should be no need to guard this entrance in particular anymore. Though I'm told that all the entrances will remain under 'lockdown' for a few more days, to be on the safe side."
"A wise decision; better safe than sorry," Jacob nodded. Then he glanced at his companion.
"If our new friend permits," that raspy voice said quietly, "I would join his vigil for a time, to pay my own respects."
Macbeth glanced at him. "Since you're known to Father Sullivan too, I've no problem with company… though another watcher will show up at midnight, and if he doesn't know you, you'd best be gone by then."
There were nods and murmurs of agreement all around, before Jacob turned and slowly walked away, his cane tapping a slow cadence against the pavement.
Macbeth turned and unfolded the ragged blanket he'd been sitting on, spreading it out enough to accommodate two seated people, then sat down and gestured for his new companion to do the same. "By the bye, I'm called Lennox MacDuff."
"I'm called Vincent," came the quiet reply, as he sat down on the blanket.
Macbeth nodded, and dug into the paper bag that Father Sullivan had left after his last visit. "Here, have a sandwich; I've plenty." He handed over a ham sandwich, which was accepted by a hand covered with fur and tipped with sharp claws. He nodded towards the hand as he asked, "The work of that Sevarius fellow?"
"No. I was born with these features."
"Ah." Vincent's tone had indicated he really didn't want to talk about it, so Macbeth said no more; he simply leaned forward on his elbows, staring into the night, while Vincent draped his cloak more carefully over his features. And those were all the words that were spoken for the next few hours. They kept on watch and alert for trouble, but there was only darkness, and silence.
Second Author's Note:
Some of you who have bothered to read this far are no doubt asking, "What was the point?" I probably can't answer that to your satisfaction. I only know that this is what happened; this is what the characters in my head said they would do. To them, this was important. Sometimes, I just do what they say.