All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company.
No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder.
All original characters are the property of Kimberly T.
Author's note: Due to the rating restrictions of FFnet, theNC-17 version of this story is not posted at this site. It can only be found at the Adult Gargoyles Fans archives: http adult dot gargoyles-fans dot org. A user-generated login is required before reading.
In a corner office at WVRN, "New York's #1 station for news and sports!", Owen Burnett balanced his briefcase on his lap as he carefully tapped it closed with his left hand, the stone fist concealed by a cleverly tailored leather glove. "Are there any further questions?"
The station manager looked up from the sheaf of papers he'd just been handed and thought for a moment. "Just two or three. The first of which being, why is your employer going to all this trouble?"
"In the interests of public service," Owen said blandly. "I'm sure you'll agree, the city is tense enough over the situation already that only a small incident in the wrong place at the wrong time would be enough to start rioting in the streets, similar to the riots in LA over the Rodney King incident. Such rioting is not only bad for business, but bad for the welfare of the common man as well."
"Well, we can agree on that much," the manager said wryly. He tapped a finger on the desk for a moment, then took a deep breath. "I'll tell you what… I'll do what I can to put this into effect, if you'll answer one more question for me truthfully. Just one question, and if you give me an honest answer, yes or no, I'll do this for you. Okay?"
Owen drew back warily. "I can only answer questions my employer has previously cleared me to answer."
The manager gestured toward the phone. "Then call him up if you need to, after I ask this question. 'Cause I'm pretty sure you're going to be asked this question a lot today, if you're planning on going to the other stations like I think you are. And my question is: Is Xanatos really harboring living gargoyles up in that castle of his?"
Owen was silent for a very brief moment before saying quietly, "Yes."
Owen almost smiled. "That's another question."
TRICK OR TREAT
By Kimberly T.
Dusk had fallen over the city only a short while ago, and now the gargoyles of Castle Wyvern were getting ready to enjoy a rare treat. Goliath had decreed that the regularly scheduled first patrol would be set aside so the clan could go see a play together, a musical called "Man of La Mancha" that Elisa highly recommended. Normally they were restricted to open-air concerts and suchlike that could be watched from a safe rooftop nearby, but Lexington had discovered some time ago that they could get into this particular theater unobserved through an air conditioning vent, and there were perches in the rafters that could not be spotted by any other seats in the house, even the balcony. They would be a few hundred feet away from the stage, but that was no problem for gargoyle eyes, and Elisa would be bringing along a pair of binoculars for the occasion.
Lexington glanced at Goliath as the clan leader dove off the parapet, on his way to Elisa's apartment to pick her up; he and Elisa would be joining the others at the theater. Then he went downstairs, to where Fox was cooing at her infant son before handing him over to the care of Hudson and Bronx for the evening; when Xanatos had announced two nights ago that he and Fox were going out for the evening as well, and would be taking Owen as a chauffeur, the clan had drawn straws to see who minded Alex instead of going to the play. Hudson had drawn short straw, so he and Bronx would be minding Alexander while the others went out and had fun. Now Lex said sympathetically to his elder as Broadway came up with his arms full of munchies for the theater, "Hey, at least Alexander's over the worst of his teething now; he'll probably leave your tail in peace."
"And Xanatos did give us that video of the play, for you to watch while we're gone!" Broadway reminded Hudson. That wasn't as good as live theater, and they all knew it, but it was better than nothing. "And hey, considering how the cameras are usually close to the stage, you'll probably see it better than we will!"
"All right, already!" Hudson unexpectedly growled out. "I know me duty, to mind the wee bairn; now go on, enjoy yer play, and get out of me beard already!" Then he stalked away towards the nursery, his tail lashing in irritation.
As Hudson stalked away, Broadway and Lexington looked at each other with wide eyes. Lexington said slowly, "Is it just me, or is Hudson getting a lot more cranky lately?"
"It ain't just you," Broadway said with a somewhat worried expression. "Yesterday I asked him if I could change the channel to a cooking show I wanted to watch, and he nearly bit my head off before he stomped away! And it wasn't even his favorite team playing or anything."
"Wonderful. Alex is settling down at last, and now Hudson is acting up."
Broadway snorted. "Keep talking like a rookery keeper about our clan elder, and he really will bite your head off."
Brooklyn poked his head in the doorway and said, "C'mon, guys, what are you waiting for? The show starts in less than half an hour!"
As Goliath headed for Elisa's apartment, his face was troubled. He'd also noticed Hudson's normally even temper changing for the worse lately, for no cause that he could see. Part of him wanted to just flat-out ask Hudson what his problem was, but he knew without attempting it that it would be futile. Hudson had a warrior's stoicism and pride, the type that never showed weakness if it was at all deniable; Bronx could nearly chew his fingers off before he'd even say "ouch." And Hudson was his mentor, had taught Goliath most of what he knew about combat and leading the clan; the respect he felt for his mentor made it hard to ask anything that would imply he wasn't performing at his peak right now.
There was also both a potential benefit and a potential problem in Lexington's latest activities. On their last patrol together, Lexington had spent some time talking about the many friendly acquaintances he had "on-line." (Which always brought to mind an image of people perched together on a clothesline, though he knew it wasn't like that at all.) He seemed quite enthusiastic about some of them, talking about the many interests they shared, though none of them had ever met face-to-face. His "buddies" went by names such as "Kondor," "LadyHawke," "Bojangles," "Bugjuice," "Riffraff" and "Hamsterbait." (Some of those names struck Goliath as downright silly, but his clan was hardly one to point talons, all things considered.) But he told Goliath that those weren't their real names, any more than his on-line name of "Braveheart" was his true name; nearly everyone used false names in that odd little not-real-world they shared.
Using a false name struck Goliath as deceitful, and deceit was not to be encouraged among his warriors, but how could Lexington tell these people, who shared so many interests but were still strangers he'd never truly met, who and what he really was? The Dragon knew their clan could use more allies, particularly with Jon Canmore/Castaway raising his Quarrymen against them, but did they dare reach out hands to people whom they'd never seen, and didn't even know their true names? What if Lexington did reveal the clan's secrets and ask for their help, and one of his "friends" turned out to be a Quarryman sympathizer?
The Quarrymen were a monstrous headache all on their own; to date, the clan had engaged them only three times. The first two times someone had nearly died, and the third time could have easily led to the entire clan being shattered, if Puck hadn't been able to step in and save them all. Their home was now apparently safe from Quarrymen during the day, but they could not remain cooped up behind stone walls forever, not and remain true gargoyles. Their foe was organized, and well-armed, and led by a madman who wanted nothing more to exterminate all gargoyles. Jason Canmore had said to Elisa that he'd been trying to contact his brother, but each time had gotten only the answering machine and no return calls, before the number had been changed to an unlisted one.
If they couldn't persuade Jon Canmore/Castaway to change his attitude about gargoyles, and didn't find a legal method of quelling these Quarrymen and reducing their threat… it was only a matter of time before one of the clan died under their hammers. What to do? Using lethal force, the way they once had against the Vikings, was out of the question. Too many of those Quarrymen were reportedly ordinary citizens under their hoods. And once they had a dead body to produce for the media, as proof that the gargoyles were a deadly threat, there would be even more humans howling for their blood!
Elisa's balcony came within view, and he couldn't help moving a little faster. She was the one person he didn't constantly have to be strong for; the one person with whom he could share his dreams, his worries and hopes, with no concerns about undermining his own leadership with the clan. He knew now that she loved him for himself, all aspects of him; the dreamer and the worrier as well as the leader. He needed that safe haven more than anything else, particularly on nights like tonight when his worries crowded in his mind and refused to shut up. He backwinged to a landing on her balcony, and thought as he shut off the delayed alarm that it wouldn't hurt to be a little late to the show, to just sit and talk for a little while before going out to meet the rest of the clan. Just to, ah, unwind a little; surely just fifteen minutes or so would help his state of mind, and they might not even be late at all.
Elisa opened the door and smiled up at him. It had been getting steadily colder for the last few nights, and instead of wearing another light, sexy dress, she was dressed sensibly for the "seats" she and he would be occupying for a few hours; a turtleneck sweater and pants under a long coat. "Right on time; actually, you're a little early! I was thinking of making some instant hot chocolate; would you like a cup before we go?"
Perfect; she'd seemed to anticipate that he wanted a little time alone with her first. He smiled at her, saying, "Elisa, you will never hear me turn down an offer of hot chocolate."
"A male after my own heart," she said with a grin as she lightly patted his chest. "C'mon inside."
He followed her willingly, took two steps inward… then stopped, and sniffed. His eyes went wide. In all the events that had been happening lately: Quarrymen, King Arthur's visit, the double wedding and the revelation of Delilah's egg… he'd lost count of the nights. But the evidence was right here, permeating the air of her apartment and rising off his chest where she'd patted him, and his entire body was roaring at him, Change of plans!
Elisa shut the door behind Goliath before the cold air could invade her toasty-warm home, then started to head past him towards the kitchen. Suddenly, she felt his wing sweep around her, nudging her towards his chest. She made a startled noise, but willingly followed along; it wasn't often that Goliath felt playful. She ended up plastered against his chest, hugging him about the waist and grinning as she looked up, expecting a kiss.
Goliath nuzzled her hair, breathing in deeply, and that low soft rumbling she associated with passion reverberated through his chest as his wings completely enfolded her and his hands settled about her waist. "Elisa," he rumbled, "suddenly, I'm not interested in hot chocolate. Or the show. Or nearly anything else."
Elisa was startled, to say the least. When last they'd spoken on the phone, Goliath had been really looking forward to seeing this show. Even though she thought she knew what was coming, she couldn't help asking, "Oh? So what are you interested in?"
"You." And with that, he lifted her off her feet for a very passionate kiss.
When he finally set her down again, Elisa felt a little wobbly from the kiss's intensity. "Ah… aren't the others expecting us?" she said as she tried to regain her composure.
He freed one hand from about her waist, grabbed for the communicator he wore about his neck, thumbed the switch and immediately said, "Brooklyn, Hudson, Elisa and I will not be attending the show. Change of plans." Then he jerked the cord from around his neck and tossed it onto the couch, ignoring the startled squawks coming from it.
This wasn't just unusual behavior for him; this was so strange it was almost scary. What had happened to the clan leader, with the clan and its welfare nearly always uppermost in his mind? She asked him that, and he growled with his eyes already glowing faintly, "It's his night off. This night is ours, Elisa, and I want to spend every moment of it with you and you alone, nobody else," as he began peeling her out of her coat.
Some part of her, the cautious part that had survived over six years on the force by suspecting nearly everything odd, wanted to shove him away and find out what the heck had happened to make him like this. But they were newly lovers, and frustrated lovers at that, with every opportunity for intimacy having given way to either family/clan obligations or sheer weariness for over two weeks. She'd missed his intimate touching terribly over those two weeks, and if he found her so overwhelmingly desirable while still fully clothed, who was she to argue?
High above the city, Brooklyn scratched his head in confusion as he stared at the communicator in his hand, then dropped it to dangle around his neck as he said to the others gliding nearby, "Well, guess it'll be just us going out tonight."
"Why do you suppose they changed their minds?" Broadway asked, scratching his scalp.
"Maybe he and Elisa just wanted some time to themselves," Angela suggested. "They really haven't had much time together lately." Privately, she thought it was a little silly that they still hadn't announced their status as mates and had a proper mating ceremony, since everybody in the clan knew what they were to each other. She smothered a snort of amusement at the thought that her father was 'setting a bad example' for his daughter.
"That could be it… but he sounded sort-of different just now," Brooklyn mused as he glanced down at the communicator again. "Real abrupt… almost angry, in a way. It's not like him to cut any of us off like that."
Lexington frowned worriedly as he soared overhead. "Hope they're not having an argument."
"I hope not, too. Well, since they apparently want some time alone… Let's just enjoy the play, and maybe one of us will swing by on the way back just to see if everything's okay," Brooklyn decided.
"I can do that," Angela volunteered. "If they are having an argument, Elisa might need another female to--"
Lexington abruptly yelped in shock, cutting through Angela's words. "Look! Down there!" as he pointed urgently down at the street just below them.
Everyone followed his wide-eyed gaze, and gasped in varying degrees of shock. "New gargoyles!"
Spiraling down out of the sky, they approached the group of brightly colored gargoyles that were just walking down the avenue, in plain sight of all the other humans below, evidently utterly unconcerned about Quarrymen and their own safety. Doing that on Halloween might be one thing, but this was the night before! Whoever they were, they were about to get in deep trouble if the clan didn't get them out of there and up in the air post-haste.
Lexington and Broadway were closest to them and about to halloo to gain their attention, when Brooklyn abruptly put on a burst of speed and grabbed Lex's tail, snapping out "Hold it!"
Angela simultaneously grabbed for Broadway's tail, saying much the same thing. Broadway twisted to look at her in confusion. "Huh? But we gotta--"
"Those aren't gargoyles!" Brooklyn hissed. "Those are costumed humans! Look at their feet!"
"And their faces!" Angela added, pointing to one that had just turned his head.
Now that they had a closer look, it was obvious to them that they were looking at mere costumes of gargoyles, adapted to humans. The humans were all walking on tip-toe with their legs bent, in much the way that a true gargoyle walked, but their costumed feet were pitifully small; once pointed out, it made for an almost disturbing deformity to gargoyle eyes. And the one man who had turned his head to look behind him, though not looking up to where they were hovering, was clearly showing a human face. He'd painted it bright orange to match the hide of his costume, but with no brow ridges and a weak jawline, he looked like a hatchling suddenly grown to adult-size. Still, the wings, tail and overall effect looked good enough to make it understandable that they'd been fooled from way up high.
"I wonder if they've worked devices into the wings and tails to make them move properly?" Lexington quietly wondered as, by silent and unanimous consent, they discreetly followed the costumed humans for a while. "See how that female's tail is swaying?" And a very sensuous sway, too; almost enough to make him forget about the too-tiny feet, and want to go down and introduce himself.
"I think it's just from her hip movements," Brooklyn said just as quietly. "Some of those tails are already dirty, and if they had real control over them they'd have lifted them out of the muck the way we would."
"Yeah, but look! That one's wings just moved!" as Broadway excitedly pointed to the largest of the group, a green male with a bright orange mane, who had indeed just stepped ahead of the pack a few paces and flared out his wings, to about one-third extension.
Angela daringly swooped lower in for a closer look, and came back with a faint frown on her face as she reported, "He's holding some cords in his hands. I think he pulled the cords to extend the wings."
The group of costumed humans suddenly came to a stop in front of a hotel, and showed passes to a doorman as they went inside. "Must be an indoor costume party," Brooklyn concluded as the clan perched on a nearby roof to watch several other people approach the building, dressed as pirates, clowns, vampires, mummies and more.
"I think I'm insulted," Angela said with a frown. "Seeing people dress up to look like us, at the same time as others dress up as vampires and other monsters…"
"And as cowboys, clowns and astronauts," Broadway pointed out. "They like to dress up as anything exotic and colorful, and, well, you gotta admit we come in more colors than they do."
"I've never understood why humans make such a big deal about skin color anyway," Lexington said as he scratched an itch on his wing-strut.
"Me neither," Brooklyn admitted. "But according to Elisa, they're more sensible about it now than they were a generation ago. Anyway, guys, if we don't move our tails we're going to miss part of the show."
And a live musical play that they could see with their own eyes was not to be missed if they could avoid it, everyone agreed as they took to the air again. But less than two blocks later, they all stopped to gawk at another crowd of costumed humans, because these had hatchlings! Children laughing and dancing down the street in their gargoyle costumes, pulling each other's tails and wings just like hatchlings roughhousing with each other.
The Trio all gulped hard at the sight, as it triggered memories of the hatchlings who had died in stone with their keepers when the clan had been slaughtered. That had been the hardest loss of all to deal with; how could the Vikings have stooped to slaughter innocent half-grown hatchlings who had never seen battle? But the enclosed courtyard they had stayed in, out of the rookery but too small and inexperienced to merit a perch with the warriors yet, had been littered with stone fragments as well that awful night…
"They look so cuuuute!" Angela cooed, utterly entranced by their antics. She wondered if she and her rookery brothers and sisters had looked half so cute, when romping in the meadows and forests of Avalon. She spotted a lavender one with a honey-blonde mane who could have been her brother Odysseus as a hatchling, except he didn't have the spiraling horn-buds, and felt an almost irresistible impulse to swoop down and find out if this imitator was just as ticklish.
"There's another group of kids," Fox said with a smile as she pointed out the window of their limousine, at a group of children costumed as gargoyles walking down the suburban street, giggling and aiming the beams of their safety flashlights at each other. "Looks like they're having fun, too."
"With Halloween on a Sunday, and parties being held all over town on the Saturday before? They're having the times of their young lives," Xanatos said with a reminiscent grin.
"I can remember the one time that happened while I was a kid," Fox said with an equally reminiscent smile. "By Monday, I was sick as a dog from eating so much candy all weekend."
"And you probably went through a half-dozen bars of soap and three dozen eggs on people's windows," Xanatos accused with a smile.
"Six dozen," Fox corrected with a truly wicked grin. "Dad grounded me till nearly New Year's for it, but it was almost worth it to have made my mark on the town like that; I was a legend for years afterwards." She looked out the window at another group of children piling into a minivan, this one a mixture of gargoyle and more traditional costumes. "I think nearly every batch of kids we've seen so far tonight has at least one gargoyle in it."
"And looking so cute they're utterly adorable," Xanatos said with a satisfied smile. "Worth every penny, and more." It had cost considerable sums of money to have put it all together on such short notice, having started Project "Trick or Treat" only a few days after Hunter's Moon. First he'd hired a half-dozen costume designers, the best of both Hollywood and Paris, under such airtight non-disclosure contracts that they weren't even allowed to say who they were working for. They'd designed gargoyle costumes that carried all the standard gargoyle features of wings, tails, four-taloned gloves (the pinky and ring fingers fit together inside) and taloned boots, while still seeming as non-threatening as possible. Most of the costumes were deliberately made without masks, so people would better get the idea of people with wings and tails; the ones with specially designed beak-masks were always smiling.
Then there had been the matter of creating dummy corporations that had taken over a good chunk of Korea's clothing industry in order to make the costumes, using the specially treated fabric made exclusively for them, and rushing the orders through to be ready in time; then shipping them to the States by the boatload (and even by the planeload for the last thousand made, the high-quality costumes that had motorized and controllable tails and wings), to distribute them in every K-Mart, Wal-Mart and costume shop in the Tri-State area in time for Halloween.
He'd made sure the costumes were all sold at far below cost, too; most of them at a price that any middle-income mother or college student could afford. He'd easily poured a few million dollars into this project that he'd never see a dime of profit on, but it would be more than worth it, to achieve both the goals he'd set for himself with this project. The first was to ensure the public got maximum exposure to the idea of gargoyles as friendly monsters, saying "Trick or Treat!" as they held up their bags for candy. If a rabid Quarryman dared even try to take a swing at one of these utterly cute kids, Castaway would be torn apart by soccer moms all over the country.
"I wonder if any of the clan is thinking of going trick-or-treating with the kids tomorrow night?" Fox mused with a wicked grin. "I can just picture Broadway doing it, can't you?"
"For free candy? He'd carry two bags," Xanatos retorted, before turning back to the front of the limousine. "We've seen enough here, Owen."
"Yes, sir," Owen said stiffly, and he drove the couple to their dinner reservations at the Four Seasons. Taking one last look out the window at those utterly adorable kids, Xanatos was sure that by tomorrow night the first goal would be achieved. Though it remained to be seen about his second goal…
Matt was also enjoying his night off. After over a month of tap-dancing on a tightrope, of trying to manage the Gargoyles Task Force (so far consisting of just himself, Elisa Maza and two other cops, both rookies so green that they still called him 'sir') and make it seem effective to the top brass that were breathing down their necks for results, while still not actually endangering the gargoyles, he needed some serious downtime. Which is why tonight he was out on Long Island at his Uncle Eddie's bowling alley, kicking back in between frames and catching up on family gossip.
Uncle Eddie set another long-necked Bud in front of his nephew as he finished his latest tale with, "So, anyway, you can understand why we ain't saying anything about cooking, and sure as hell nothing about coleslaw, in front of your Aunt Mary lately."
Matt chuckled, "Good plan. Now I'm glad I missed that shindig."
"Yeah, I know what you mean, but you've been missing out on too many of them lately. Don't get me wrong, the family's proud of your work as a cop; we're all agreed that you're doing a helluva lot more good in getting right down there with the common New Yorker instead of dealing with only the high-profile, Federal stuff that's only five percent of the problem. But when you left that 'Friggin' Bunch of Idiots' in D.C. and came back to New York, we were kind of figuring we'd see more of you than we have lately."
Matt grimaced. "I know, Unc, I know, but I've been busy lately. This whole GTF business… C'mon, don't make me talk about work tonight."
"Awright, I know, you gotta unwind. No talk about cop stuff. So… how's the Great Hunt going?" At Matt's momentary look of confusion, he amplified, "You know, tracking down the Illuminati." The whole family knew about it, from conversations about his obsession at previous family gatherings. But that wasn't in Matt's official line of work, so Eddie figured that subject wasn't off-limits. "Found any more stuff on them lately?"
To Eddie's surprise, his nephew looked uneasy for a moment. "Well… No, can't say I have, not lately. Hey, you haven't said anything yet about how Stephanie's doing these days; when's the baby due again?"
Eddie looked suspiciously at Matt for changing the subject so abruptly, but couldn't resist talking about his daughter and the baby she and her husband were expecting, his first grandchild and Matt's first niece/nephew. But just as he was about to describe what he thought he'd been seeing in that first ultrasound printout, Matt gave a lurch in his seat and his eyes bugged out like he'd just been gut-punched, as the beer fell from his suddenly nerveless fingers and crashed to the floor.
Eddie whipped around to see what Matt was staring at, then did a perfect double-take at what was coming in the front door of his bowling alley. After a few moments he called out suspiciously, "Clifford, that you? I recognize the bowling bag, but sure as hell not the wings!"
Over at the counter, a man dressed in a dark blue gargoyle costume, complete with dark blue face-paint, waved a friendly four-taloned hand at him. "It's me, Eddie. Josie here," as the man gestured to a bright pink lady gargoyle standing next to him, "Bet me I couldn't even handle a bowling ball in these gloves, so we stopped over on the way to the party so I could prove her wrong. Is that your nephew the cop there, staring at us like we're the real thing?" The man set his bowling bag down and turned slowly in place, while his wife pirouetted like a ballerina beside him, showing off her costume as well. "Pretty realistic looking, huh? Check it out, this is the deluxe model, we can even move the wings!" as he tugged on a pair of short cords hanging from his loincloth, and the wings flapped correspondingly.
"Looks like you're ready to go jumping off buildings and onto innocent victims," was Eddie's amused opinion. "I don't think the real thing comes in pretty-girl pink, though. Where'd you get those?"
"Got them last week from that costume specialty shop at the mall that opened up a few weeks ago; they have better quality Halloween stuff than the average K-mart."
"Excuse me," Matt croaked from beside him, sounding like he'd only just figured out how to use his vocal cords again. "Are you saying that these costumes are readily available?"
Clifford looked at him in surprise. "Well, sure; they're probably the most popular costume this year! What with the real thing being discovered only a month ago, and all, gargoyles are probably all the rage. We passed a few other partygoers on the way here, and each group had at least one gargoyle costume in 'em. Hey, you okay?" he asked with concern, because Matt had just thunked his head down onto the table, groaning quietly.
Uncle Eddie asked him the same thing, but Matt could only reply with a groan, "I can just see my caseload increasing by a factor of ten or twenty before the night's over. Uncle Eddie, this'll probably be my last visit for the rest of the year…"
After the play was over, Angela diverted away from the rest of the clan heading back to the castle, still humming "The Impossible Dream" under her breath. It had been a wonderful play, far better than the best attempts at theater that her clan on Avalon had ever done, when trying to act out the stories of Goliath and his warriors that their guardians had raised them on. It had indeed been better than seeing it on a television screen, too. Magical though that device was, you never had the feeling that came from live theater, the sense of almost being involved in all the drama and excitement unfolding before you; by the play's end, she had wanted to keen for Don Quixote as she would for a fallen gargoyle warrior, and vow to carry on the fight for justice and chivalry in his name.
Since Goliath had not gone to the theater with them or given any indication of when he would rejoin them, Brooklyn had handed out patrol assignments just before leaving the theater. He'd paired her up with Lexington while he went with Broadway to cover the other half of town, but he had agreed with her insistence that she should check on Goliath and Elisa before they started their patrols, just on the off chance that the couple had argued and needed a mediator who was both gargoyle and female.
She landed softly on the balcony of Elisa's apartment, which was seemingly empty, and dark except for a light in the kitchen. Dark… but not silent; she thought she could hear soft sounds of movement from somewhere within, perhaps the bedroom. A burglar? She knew where Elisa kept the key to the balcony door, but before opening it she paused and pressed her ear to the glass, to better discern what those sounds were and who might be making them. And moments later was very glad she had not opened the door, because now she could hear a voice: Elisa, chanting, "Oh yeah, oh yeah, oh God, oh God, OHHH YEAHHHH!" and moments later, Goliath roared almost loud enough to rattle the windows.
No, they definitely weren't having an argument! Angela hastily jumped off the balcony and took to the air, feeling a little flushed and very glad she had escaped unheard, because if Goliath had thought she was spying on them, daughter or not, he would have been furious. He probably would have tied her tail in a knot for it, like her rookery brother Gideon had nearly done to poor Pericles when he'd stumbled upon his and Hippolyta's love-nest.
And as always, recollections of Avalon sparked more memories, like the mating ceremony for Gideon and Hippolyta; they had been the second pair to become mates, after Michael and Menalippe, although Hippolyta had later confided to her that she'd thought Angela and Gabriel…
Lexington was waiting for her, back at the castle; it was time to go on patrol!
Jon Castaway leaned his head back against the upholstered seat and groaned softly, "This is a nightmare. An unending nightmare, a vision of Hell on Earth, from which I shall never awaken."
Sitting in the chauffeur's seat of the limousine, Fleance thought to herself that her new boss was just a touch on the melodramatic side… Not that that was anything new to her, since Lennox MacDuff had occasionally had his melodramatic moments. Aloud, she said soothingly, "This is only a minor setback, boss. Things could be worse."
"Things could be worse," Castaway repeated with a note of disbelief. "Fleance, in the last week we have seen our most promising mission in destroying the gargoyles utterly fail for reasons unknown, with the loss of two of our three helicopters and sixteen Quarrymen! Twelve of them have utterly vanished into thin air, and the remaining four were so spooked upon waking up in Central Park with no memory of how they got there, even no memory of departing on the mission to the Aerie Building, that they summarily turned in their hoods! And now," as he gestured out the window of the limo, pointing accusingly at the crowded sidewalks, "virtually overnight, the town has been flooded with thousands of gargoyle costumes, some of them so realistic that the wearers appear to be true gargoyles at first glance! Which is why we are now on the way to a police station to post bail for your muscle-bound and mutton-headed partner, arrested on assault charges for attacking an innocent man on his way to a costume party! At this rate, the Quarrymen will soon become a laughing-stock instead of a powerful weapon in the war for Humanity! Please, tell me how things could currently be worse…"
Fleance sighed. "Well, if Banquo had actually killed the guy instead of just roughing him up, then we'd probably have a murder trial and a big sensational scandal to face. For just a broken arm, and 'assault and battery', we probably won't even get thirty seconds on the eleven o'clock news."
"Well, that's certainly a comfort," Castaway said sarcastically, as he sank back into the cushions and closed his eyes again.
Fleance waited a few seconds, then spoke up again. "Boss, not to disparage your intellect, but you're not looking at this latest development the right way."
Castaway reluctantly opened his eyes again. "Oh? Do tell."
"Well, you just said yourself that some of those gargoyle costumes are so realistic that they can fool even Quarrymen at first glance. They'd probably fool the average innocent bystander, too, when they're not saying 'Trick or treat'…"
Fleance explained her basic idea as they drove to the police station. At first Castaway frowned, but as she continued, the frown became a grim and cold smile.
Across town, at Columbia University, a female student was sitting in the lounge of her dorm and frowning down at the screen of her laptop. Several other students walked through, laughing and talking, and most of them dressed in costumes of one sort or another; there was the usual sprinkling of bedsheets converted to togas, but most of the costumes were more elaborate. There were witches, vampires, presidents, a ballerina (with a beard and legs like tree trunks), cartoon characters, Star Trek uniforms, and gargoyle costumes as well. One bright-red-male-gargoyle-costume wearer was bitching to another, "I never knew before how much of a pain walking on tiptoe could be!"
The silver female gargoyle he was talking to retorted, "Now you know why I think high heels should be banned under the codes of the Geneva Convention. They were invented by some misogynistic fashion designer, probably a relative to the Marquis de Sade, for the sole purpose of making women suffer for ridiculously idealized standards of 'beauty'!"
"Not just that, but to make you run slower so it's easier for guys to catch you," as someone costumed as Bill Clinton leered at her through the eyeholes of his mask. Somebody else commented that he'd really chosen a costume to fit his personality, hadn't he?
A bloodcurdling howl—or at least, what a guy might think would make for a bloodcurdling howl, after a six-pack of beer—rang through the hall, and moments later another gargoyle costume wearer bounded through the lounge. This one had decided to put a mask on his costume after all, a scowling Frankenstein's-Monster mask that was a few shades lighter green than the gargoyle costume he wore, and he howled again through the mask as he bounded up onto the couch beside the student. "Yarrrooooooo! I wanna eat your liver!"
He was obviously hoping for a typical 1950's-horror-movie 'helpless-female' reaction, but that's not what he got. The student glared up at him and snarled, in quite frankly a much more threatening manner, "Get that mask off NOW, or you'll live to regret it!"
The Frankenstein's-gargoyle drew back a fraction at her words, but then recovered his machismo (there were other guys in the room, after all) and snarled back, "And just how do you think you could make me regret it?"
"You wanna star in my next "Big Creep on Campus" cartoon for the 'Columbia Crowd' website?"
The mask came off immediately, and the blonde-haired athlete underneath it looked at her with a hurt expression on his face. "Jeez, Mary, it's only a mask!"
"It's only an attitude," Mary Simmons said sternly. "The attitude that gargoyles are monsters!"
"So what other word would you use to describe creatures that swoop down out of the sky to grab people and carry them off to their lairs for God-knows-what, and blow up police stations when they're discovered?" the bearded ballerina asked sarcastically.
"I'd call it a pack of lies spread by the tabloids," Mary retorted. "Didn't you read the papers when the police brought in two of the three people who'd actually done the bombing of the police station? And I have a cousin who's a cop at the 18th Precinct, and he told me that almost every last person who's been brought into his precinct complaining about being assaulted by a 'winged monster', even before we knew they were called gargoyles, was a criminal of some sort! And those 'monsters' were stopping them from committing muggings, rape, and even murder! Brad said it's almost funny how many of them try to change their stories after Forensics matches their fingerprints to whatever weapons were found on the scene…"
"So are you saying that assistant district attorney, Margot Yale, is a criminal?" somebody else asked. "I saw her on Nightline, and she swore up and down about all the times she'd been attacked by those creatures, and even had the insurance estimates on no less than three totaled cars to back her up!"
Mary couldn't answer that one, but didn't let that stop her. "People all over the city are condemning them out of hand as monsters, but they're another sentient species! Nearly every legitimate report spells it out loud and clear; they can talk to us, they understand our language! There are scientists who've devoted almost their entire lives to trying to find another sentient race out there among the stars, someone else Humankind can talk to, when we have another species we can talk to right here, in this city! And what do we do?" she asked angrily, as she pulled a Quarrymen leaflet out of her pocket and threw it down on the table. "We try to wipe them out, commit genocide!"
"And I suppose you want to invite them all in for tea—Earl Grey, hot—and discuss the Prime Directive, like 'Beam Me Up Davey' wants to do," another student said sarcastically. They all knew he was referring to Dave Mulcahy, a total Star Trek nut who had already firmly espoused his belief that the gargoyles were aliens from a civilization far superior to their own. "Get real, Mary! We're not dealing with Vulcans here; these creatures are not here to make friends! You say only criminals have to fear them, but two of them nearly killed my brother two years ago, when they attacked him and his biker friends when they were just out cruising the streets! I thought he'd been sniffing glue again when he told me about it back then, but now that I know they really exist… If you're so set on meeting them and trying to make friends, like some kid mistaking a grizzly cub for his Pooky Bear, I'm putting in my bid now to get your stereo system after the funeral."
"Dibs on her laptop!" another student immediately chimed in, and others joyfully laid advance claim to her bicycle, her new leather jacket and even her pet goldfish. Mary just shook her head at them before going back to her keyboard, and eventually they gave up on teasing and went off to the party being held in the next dorm.
After a few more minutes of typing, she became aware of another person looming behind the couch, and turned around to glare at the lurker as she snapped, "What! …Oh, sorry, Keith. I didn't mean to snap at you, I just… sorry."
A shy man by nature, Keith Hanford had jerked back at her snapping but gradually loosened up after she apologized. "S'okay," he mumbled. "I'm sorry if I startled you."
"Ah, it's all right; I needed a break from this, anyway," Mary said as she set aside her laptop. "So what's up?"
"Well… Do you really think we could make friends with the gargoyles?" Keith knew his teacher in Medieval History, Professor MacDuff, certainly thought so, but everyone who had him for a course concurred that there was something a little strange about that professor already, with his absolute aversion to the works of Shakespeare.
"I don't know for sure, but I think we owe it to ourselves as well as them to at least try. It's not going to be easy, though; what with all this hate and fear these Quarrymen are spewing out," as she gestured at the discarded pamphlet again, "not to mention organizing those 'hunting parties,' like the one that smashed the statue on the student lawn last week… By now, the gargoyles have got to be as nervous or just plain scared around us as most people are around them. Getting one to come down and talk to us won't be easy."
"Yeah, I suppose so. Did you hear that some people are even trying to blame them for The Big Sleep?"
The what? Oh, you mean that night in June that everyone in Manhattan fell asleep all at once, even right in the street? I heard about it, but I was at home in Connecticut at the time. Were you here for that?"
"Yeah; it was really freaky. I was at a movie with my kid brother, and just as it started we both heard this voice in our heads, a booming voice saying 'Sleep!' And next thing we knew, we were waking up to a blank screen; the projectionist had fallen asleep, too! And when we tried to leave the theater… There's this pickup truck in the lobby, that just crashed right through the windows there and rammed the concessions stand! The driver had fallen asleep at the wheel… And to think about the gawdawful racket his truck must have made as he crashed through, and we even slept through that…" Keith gave a shiver at the memory, then another as he continued, "And going home, we must have passed a dozen accidents, all caused by the same thing, people falling asleep at the wheel. Saw some sheets on bodies, too… It was pretty bad. And then when we got home, we found out that our next-door neighbor had just been taken to the hospital, because he'd fallen asleep on the stairs and broke his arm in two places when he fell… It pretty much freaked everybody out. My family must've went through a half-dozen cases of Jolt and Mountain Dew, and three or four cans of coffee grounds in the next few days, trying to stay so wired it couldn't happen to us again."
Mary snorted in amusement, then apologized. "I'm sorry, I don't mean to make fun of what happened, but…"
Keith half-smiled. "It's okay, I know what you mean. I never went to the bathroom so often in my life as I did for the next week or so, until all the caffeine wore off. I think the only thing in my life that's ever freaked me out worse was the Lost Nights, the spring of last year… And nobody really knows how that happened either."
Mary shuddered. "Oh, don't remind me. I was here for that! That was just beyond freaky, to be sitting there at my desk studying, at seven o'clock at night… And then going instantly to the next morning, still sitting there, with no memory and no clue what had happened all night! Do you think that lady they had on TV the morning after the first 'missing night' was right? That everyone just… turned into statues all night, from sunset to sunrise?"
Keith shrugged. "It makes about as much sense as any other theory I've heard, though it doesn't explain why some people just disappeared into thin air the morning after." Then he looked sideways at Mary for a moment, as a new thought struck him. "Turning into statues… isn't that what these gargoyles are supposed to do during the day?" as he pointed at the Quarryman pamphlet. "If those pamphlets are telling the truth in that one instance… and if that's really what happened to us… Well, don't you think that's a little much for an unrelated coincidence?"
Mary had never considered that before, and her face showed her troubled thoughts on the matter that that the two just might be related. Then her lips firmed again as she declared, "Whether they did or not, the only way we'll ever find out the truth is by talking to them. But first we're going to have to convince them, and a lot of other people, that we're at least willing to talk!"
"You could post a notice on your website."
Both Mary and Keith spun around at the unexpected voice, to see another girl dressed in a green leotard standing beside them. "Jeezus, Kelly! Will you quit doing that!" Mary demanded. "And how do you do that, anyway?"
"Do what?" Kelly asked innocently, as she reached up to undo her ice-blonde ponytail.
"Sneaking up on us like that, Miss Ninja! One of these days you're going to give the RA a heart attack."
Kelly pretended to pout, "It's not my fault that no one ever bothers to notice me until I speak up." Mary knew that was a lie, that Kelly was actually fond of her disconcerting ability to sneak up on people unnoticed and eavesdrop on conversations; that was how Mary had gotten some of the juiciest news for her website. But before she could say anything Kelly went on, "Anyway, why don't you post something on your website, maybe start a group to promote talking to the gargoyles instead of shattering them? You're probably not the only ones who think we should talk to them, but not everyone else on campus has their own website for campus news."
"Actually, I've been trying to think of a good way to say just that," Mary said as she turned back to her nearly forgotten laptop. "Since we're all here and thinking about it, you guys want to help me brainstorm?"
And before the night was over, the People for Interspecies Tolerance, a.k.a. the P.I.T. Crew, was born.
As the night ended and dawn approached, Elisa yawned as she leaned on Goliath's arm and looked out the window at the lightening sky. "Well, I don't know about you, but today I'm going to sleep like a rock."
Goliath chuckled softly. "I imagine I will, too." He kissed her, a sweet kiss goodnight that threatened to become a much more passionate one, but reluctantly broke it off, and turned away to open the balcony door. "Sleep well, beloved. I'll see you tonight," he said, with a faint growl of passion still in his voice.
"That's a promise, Big Guy," Elisa said with a smile, as she lightly ran her fingers down his spine between the wings again, just for the mischievous pleasure of seeing him arch his back and rumble with pleasure again. He turned on her again with his eyes glowing faintly, but she teasingly waved a no-no finger in his face as she said, "Don't start something we won't have time to finish!"
"That's my line," he rumbled at her, before going out onto the balcony. He crouched down and tucked his wings and tail in as she picked up the tarpaulin with the weighted edges, and turned to stone as the first thin crescent of the sun crept into the sky.
She draped the tarpaulin over him and tucked it in around his feet, giving an involuntary soft snicker at the thought that she was tucking him in for beddy-bye; then she went back inside and fell onto the bed, not bothering to straighten out the rumpled and almost completely untucked sheets there before falling asleep herself.
Later that day, just a little after noon, Elisa woke up to a rapid knocking on her door. "Ohhh, not again," she groaned, remembering the days of little sleep to no sleep she'd gotten while helping her mother prepare for her brother's wedding. But whoever was knocking didn't have Dana's distinctive drum-solo style, and she'd finally just given her mother a key to her place, so it wasn't either of them. She yawned as she struggled into her T-shirt and sweats and staggered out to answer the door, instinctively glancing towards the balcony to be sure Goliath was still adequately covered from prying eyes.
The person at the door turned out to be a courier from NYXPress, with a large package for her from a "Mr. Burnett" at the Aerie building. Wondering what the heck Owen was doing sending her anything, she signed for it and sent the courier on his way. A moment's suspicion, fueled not by just her still-strong wariness about both Xanatos and his chief flunky but by years of surviving the streets as a cop, made her look the box over thoroughly before opening it. She checked all the seams, sniffed it, shook it, listened very carefully for ticking or humming sounds, and finally decided to open it by turning it over and carefully slitting the tape across the bottom of the box. Leaning way back, she opened the flaps and waited. Nope, no explosions or clouds of noxious gas emerging. She reached into the box, and pulled out yard after yard of golden beige material, some sort of clothing. She spread it out on the floor, and was surprised to find it was a golden gargoyle costume, complete with wings and tail.
There was a note in the bottom of the box, which would have been at the top if she'd opened it normally. In Xanatos' distinctive handwriting, it read, "Trick or treat! There are thousands of these costumes on the streets by now, worn by both kids and adults. What better way to hide than in plain sight? --X."
"Hiding in plain sight," Elisa said with a grin. For once, Xanatos had done her a real favor! She had really worried about how she and Goliath would be able to enjoy Halloween this year; the one and only time they'd publicly walked down the streets together, gargoyles were still considered mythical creatures by most of the populace. Now that too many of the people knew and feared the gargoyles, there was a high risk of causing panic and mob scenes if they tried it again. But if there really were thousands of these well-made costumes on the streets by now, then she and Goliath could mingle right in with them and not be bothered!
The costume was designed to cover her from neck to toe, and had detailed instructions and illustrations on how to put it on properly. She promptly did so and looked at herself in the bedroom mirror, turning this way and that. "Verrry nice," she purred to herself. The taloned feet of the costume were much smaller than a true gargoyle's would be, but other than that they were perfect, so long as she stood on tiptoe and kept her knees bent. The wings were styled after Brooklyn's configuration, with little wing-talons at the top. They were a little heavy, but the harness inside the costume that strapped to her shoulders helped to distribute the weight. There were guy wires carefully sewn inside the wing struts that enabled her to partly extend and fold them, by touching the disguised control reels at her hips. The tail had an actual servomotor and flexible frame inside it, which she controlled by remotes sewn into the left four-taloned glove. She amused herself by learning how to wrap the tail around her own ankle, grinning to think of how surprised Goliath would be when she did it to him, the way he often did it to her with his own tail. Yes, she was sure Goliath would like the costume. Very much! It wouldn't be the same as actually being a gargoyle again—nothing could compare to actually gliding with her own wings, feeling the air currents caressing her velvety spans the way they had that night—but it was as close as she was likely to get without magic.
The "hide" of the costume felt like finest-quality glove leather, very close to what a gargoyle's hide really felt like, and very close to her own skin color as well. The tunic that went over it was patterned after Angela's, but made of black satin, cut even lower at the bust, and barely covering her nether regions; if not for the "skin" under it actually being another costume, she'd have been too embarrassed to wear it. "Just a little risqué, eh, Xanatos?" she muttered to herself. Maybe he was trying to get a new concept across to the populace: gargoyles as sex objects. As if Angela didn't have her hands full already, with the Trio chasing after her!
She yawned abruptly, and realized that she still had a little sleep to catch up on, and luckily, this time still had a few hours to do it in. She set about getting back out of the costume, which turned out to be nearly as long and involved a process as getting into it in the first place, then crawled back into bed and went back to sleep.
Goliath awoke that evening without his usual customary roar and stretch, mindful of where he was and that caution was preferred over exuberance. For Elisa's sake and the sake of precious time with her, he simply stood up and rumbled a quiet greeting to the night while he gave an overall wings-to-tail shiver to rid himself of stone skin. Then he turned around, fully expecting to see Elisa right there… only she wasn't. But his cover was off, so she had to have been there recently… unless she hadn't even had time to cover him this morning before a strange male had—NO! He told himself sternly not to jump to conclusions; she might have simply decided to wait for him inside. Check before panicking, he reminded himself as he reached for the sliding door to her apartment; it was unlocked. He let himself in, whispering tensely, "Elisa?"
Her scent—oh, that scent!—was still heavy in the air, and her voice came from the bedroom. "I'll be right out, just give me a moment more!" She sounded rushed, but not in any real stress; perhaps she'd just been in the bathroom.
He reminded himself that tonight was Halloween, their one night to go out in public together safely. He knew she was looking forward to it as much as or more than he was, if that was possible. So… self-control. Tonight would be the greatest test of his self-control in years, but he could do it. If his clever rookery sister with the honey-blonde mane and spiraling horns had been able to wait and fight her instincts for half the night, long ago, then so could he. He was far more than a mindless beast; he was a rational and intelligent being. He could wait for hours, and be polite to strangers in the meantime, and…
Elisa came out, and his rational and intelligent mind abruptly shut down.
She was a gargoyle again! Oh Dragon, there really was a Heaven, and he must have died in his sleep and gone straight there!
Elisa smiled when she saw his utterly stunned look, and turned this way and that to show herself off. "What do you think?"
The only word he could think of right at that moment was YES! Every gland in his body was roaring it as he crossed the room in one bound and swept her into a full embrace with arms and wings. "I think you're beautiful," he rumbled. No waiting, oh no, not even for a token flight around the block! Growling his passion, he pulled back just enough to hook a claw in her tunic and start ripping it off.
"H-hey, whoah, Big Guy!" Elisa was honestly startled, and trying to push his hand away. "Don't wreck the costume!"
For a moment all his shocked and outraged brain could understand was that his mate was refusing him; then her words actually registered. Costume? He pulled back and looked at her more closely. She… it was just a costume. An incredibly realistic costume, but now he could see that her ears were still human, the wings-talons were lifeless prongs and the wing-struts had thin seams where the membranes were sewn on. Just a costume. For just a moment he was so utterly disappointed, like a hatchling promised a wonderful treat and then denied it, he swore like an undisciplined hatchling would. "Gravel!"
Instantly, he regretted it, when Elisa gave him a wry smile that did not entirely hide the hurt. "Kind of got your hopes up, huh?"
He started to deny it, then knew a lie right now would only decrease her trust in him, and trust was an absolutely vital part of their relationship. He sighed and admitted, "I still dream sometimes of how wonderful it was to see you gliding on your own wings. But always believe me when I tell you that I would rather have you, my wingless and tail-less Elisa, than any female gargoyle in the world," as he gently caressed her cheek. "You have not a gargoyle's form, but you will always have a gargoyle's heart…mine, given freely."
She sighed wistfully as she covered his hand with hers, and held it to her cheek for a moment. "I love you too, Goliath. We're probably both of us as crazy as bedbugs, but I love you too."
They hugged each other, in affirmation… that triggered more waves of Elisa's scent, the heady perfume filling Goliath's nostrils. He rumbled in her ear as he gently nuzzled her hair, then worked his way down to her neck. When Elisa wryly commented that he must still think the costume was a 'turn-on', he corrected her, "It's not the costume that's 'turning me on', Elisa. It's you, entirely you." He hooked a talon under the high neckline as he wondered aloud, "How long does it take to get this off?"
Elisa told him it took about ten minutes to get it completely off, without damaging it in any way. But as it turned out, Goliath didn't want to wait even that long…
Afterwards, they lay on the floor of the apartment with her lying on his torso and covered by his wings, and still wearing the upper half of the costume, including the wings. He lovingly groomed her hair with his talons as he whispered, "You and I are one, now and forever."
"Now and forever," she whispered back, as she reached up to touch his face and trace the outline of his large but so-kissable mouth with a fingertip. "I love you, Goliath."
That was all they said for long moments more; then Goliath thought back to his recent actions and began to be worried about Elisa. "Are you all right?" He'd realized that her costume had affected him after all; towards the end, he'd been subconsciously seeing her as an actual female gargoyle, able to take anything he could dish out and shriek for more, not as a fragile human who had to be loved with restraint.
"I'm fine," she said automatically, then paused to consider it. He'd never been so forceful with her before… but she was pretty sure he hadn't done any real damage, or she'd be in serious pain already. She was probably going to be sore as hell for a little while, but… "Yeah, I'm okay."
He kissed her fingertips, then sighed as he laid his head back, and they just rested together for a while. Then they heard soft and rapid footfalls heading in their direction, and moments later Cagney butted his head against Goliath's shoulder, purring loudly for attention. Like any wise cat, he'd scooted out of the room at the first signs of passion, but now that the mating was over and it was safe to approach, he told them it was past time for his dinner.
Goliath half-chuckled, half-snorted as he eyed the cat fearlessly butting his shoulder, while Elisa lifted her head to smile wryly at her pet. "Hey, Cagney. One of these days I'm going to find a can opener you can operate with your paws, and teach you how to get your own cat food. Sound like a plan?"
"It sounds like one to me," Goliath agreed as he unfolded his wings so Elisa could get up. Then he looked with alarm at the slow and painstaking way she got to her feet and headed for the kitchen. "I did hurt you! Elisa, I'm sorry, I just…"
Without looking back, she waved away his apology. "I told you, I'm okay. I'm a little sore, but it's nothing to worry about."
He still got up and followed her into the kitchen, plainly still worried. "I still shouldn't have been so… vigorous."
He confessed how he felt the costume had affected him after all, and she smiled wryly as she patted his arm. "I sort of figured that out already. It would probably be a good idea to tone it down in the future, but really, I'll be fine."
He slowly nodded acceptance of her words, then looked embarrassed as his stomach audibly rumbled. She half-chuckled, "Guess we burned up some calories, huh?" as she got Cagney his cat food, then set about making dinner for both of them.
Goliath asked how he could help, so she had him chopping vegetables while she prepared the pasta for their dinner. He said while looking at her out of the corner of his eye as he scraped the cut vegetables into the dish, "Elisa, I know we had both been looking forward to Halloween, and to attending the street parties together… but I strongly feel that we should stay here tonight."
Elisa figured he was worried about the way she was walking right now, and was about to protest that she'd be fine after a little while, then reconsidered. She was really sore now, enough to consider sneaking into the bathroom for some painkillers; if they did run into trouble, she wouldn't be in top form to handle it. Not to mention that, unlike her old "Belle" costume, the gargoyle outfit had no convenient hiding place for her gun and holster. Besides, the biggest appeal to going to parties together had been simply having time together without danger, and they had that right now, safe within four walls. "I guess it wouldn't hurt to stay in this year after all," she said with a smile. "Who knows, maybe there'll be something worth watching on TV." There was no mistaking the look of relief on Goliath's face; she hadn't realized just how worried he was until then. She patted his arm once more as she said with a smile, "I'll be fine, Big Guy." Then she went back to stirring the sauce.
While their dinner was cooking, Elisa excused herself and went into the bedroom to finish changing out of the costume and into some nice lounging-around wear, and snagged some painkillers out of the bathroom as she did so. She heard the ding of the kitchen timer while she was still taking off the inner harness that supported the wings, but Goliath called out that he would take care of serving their dinner for her; he believed he knew where everything was now. Elisa smiled to herself as she changed, at the thought of Goliath, the biggest and most fearsome gargoyle in New York City if not the entire world, doing domestic duties like any husband would… The smile became wistful and a little sad as she shrugged into the pajamas from Frederick's, but she determinedly put a happier one on before walking carefully out to the dining room.
Goliath had indeed set the table, poured their beverages and served the food onto their plates, and now stood by his chair, waiting for her to join him before eating. Elisa blinked at the heaping amount of pasta he'd piled onto her plate, almost as much as he'd piled onto his own. "Uh, Big Guy, I don't think I expended that many calories…"
Goliath looked chagrined for a moment, then tried to defend himself with a firm, "You rarely eat enough--or sleep enough--to be healthy for the average human; you need more of both, particularly now."
"Yes, Mother," Elisa retorted sarcastically, while wondering just what was so particular about 'now'. Now that they were lovers? Now that winter was coming, when most animals put on an extra layer or two of fat if they could? She was about to ask him just what he meant by that when the phone rang; instead, she excused herself for a moment to go and pick it up.
Lexington was on the phone. "Hi, Elisa!" he said cheerfully. "We didn't know if you and Goliath were still there or out on the town by now, but I figured I'd call anyway. Have you seen the gargoyle costumes yet?"
"Well, we've seen one of them, at least," Elisa said wryly. "Xanatos sent me one." She covered the handset for a moment as she whispered to Goliath, who had gotten up from the table also, "It's Lex." Then she said into the phone, "Have you seen a lot of them?"
"Dozens, maybe hundreds, and that was just last night!" Lex said enthusiastically. "Up close, you can tell they're not real, but at first glance from on high, they even fooled us for a moment. And we got an idea from that, so tonight Angela and Fox have been drawing 'seam lines' on us with Fox's eyebrow pencil; this way, even up close, it'll look like we're just costume-wearing humans. Angela's finishing up with Broadway right now, and once she's done, we're going to that big bash at the convention center, with the live music and all-you-can-eat; Xanatos has tickets for us all. Are you and Goliath coming? With you in costume too, it'll be great!"
Elisa considered it, considered climbing back into the costume and painting thin black lines all over Goliath's body, and almost agreed just for the mischievous opportunity to draw those thin black lines. But she was definitely sore now, and she somehow just knew that if she was still walking funny by the time they got to the party, Goliath would hover all over her and feel both guilty as hell for her soreness and furiously embarrassed for it in front of his clan. As she hesitated, Goliath asked if he could talk to Lexington.
Lexington was happy to hear from Goliath, and cheerfully explained about their plan and the tickets from Xanatos. "So, will you and Elisa be joining us? I can glide over with the tickets for you both…"
"No!" Goliath said hastily, as his tail lashed out in agitation, nearly knocking over the end table, which Cagney had been perching on; Cagney bounded off the suddenly unstable perch with an startled yowl. Then, more calmly, Goliath repeated, "No. The offer is very tempting, and by all means the rest of you should take advantage of it, but Elisa and I will be staying here tonight. Tonight is our night… and not a good night for us to be out in public, or around other males."
Back at the castle, Lexington scratched his scalp as he stared puzzledly at the phone. "What do you mean, tonight is…" then his eyes widened even further. "Oh. …Oh! B-but, Elisa, she's… you… well…" he floundered for words, trying to think of a way to say it without insulting his clan leader.
"I know. But it doesn't matter," Goliath said firmly into his ear. "Not to me, not anymore."
"Uh, well… okay. Well, I guess we'll, uh, see you when it's over, huh? Um… how many more nights will that be?" He'd have to let Brooklyn know he was in charge until Goliath returned.
"Two more, most likely. Tell Brooklyn that I'd like to talk to him."
Almost in a daze, Lexington set the phone down and went into the next room. He found Brooklyn looking at himself in a mirror, studying the fine "seams" Angela had drawn around his beak and brow ridges, around his neck and down his arms, legs and tail, and trying hard to ignore the giggling going on in the other room, where Angela was still drawing on Broadway. It seemed Broadway was ticklish in certain areas, or at least pretending to be, to make Angela's work on him more fun… Brooklyn turned to see Lexington and said almost peevishly, "Well, were they still there? Are they coming or not?"
"Uh, yeah, they were there. And no, they're not coming with us." And then he told Brooklyn just why not.
A minute later, a somewhat stunned Brooklyn was listening to Goliath on the phone. "I know I can trust you to lead the clan until I return, and to make sure no one does anything too foolish," Goliath said to him reassuringly. "Enjoy yourselves at the party, but remember to never let down your guard completely." He paused for a moment before continuing with a note of regret in his voice, "Particularly yourself, Brooklyn; you will likely have to keep your mouth closed the entire time, since no mask will mimic a gargoyle beak inside as well as outside."
"Yeah, I kind of figured that out already," Brooklyn said dispiritedly. "No singing, no food and anything I drink will have to be through a straw. But hey, that doesn't mean I can't have any fun at all…"
"Indeed not," Goliath chuckled in his ear. "Just be careful, all of you, but enjoy yourselves with my blessing."
"Thanks! And you, uh…" Brooklyn found himself blushing maroon. "Well, you enjoy yourself too, and we'll, uh, see you in a few nights." They said goodbye to each other, and he hung up and went back to the others.
Angela had finally finished with Broadway, and now they were listening to Lex as he explained to them why Goliath and Elisa weren't joining them. Broadway looked as stunned as Brooklyn felt, but Angela just shrugged, as if it was no surprise to her at all. Hudson was there as well, and thoughtfully running his fingers through his beard as he tried to recall if such a thing had ever happened before. Not to his recollection, at least… Then Angela smiled as she said, "If they're happy together, that's all that matters, right?"
"Right," Broadway said stoutly. "So, let's get going, before they eat all the buffet at the party!"
They went into the next room to find Xanatos, who had said that they would all be going to the party in a van together, since being seen gliding there would be a dead giveaway. They found him sitting at a computer console, setting the castle defenses on automatic until they got back from the party, with a pair of red taloned gloves lying next to the keyboard he was tapping away at. He was dressed in a gargoyle costume as well, a deep crimson shade of hide with Goliath's wing configuration and a motorized, twitching tail. With crimson face-paint from hairline to neckline and a pair of small rams-horns held on by a concealed headband, he looked very much like the typical Judeo-Christian depiction of a demon, lacking only a pitchfork and a little hellfire to make the picture complete.
A turquoise-blue female gargoyle came in from the next room, Fox in her costume, and cooed to little Alexander in her arms, "Now, you be a good boy and do what Uncle Owen says, okay?" Alexander babbled delightedly and reached up to pat at her face again, now completely turquoise blue so the fox tattoo around her eye blended right in. "No, honey, don't ruin Mommy's makeup again. Has anyone seen Owen? He was here not even five minutes ago… Here, David, will you hold him for a moment?"
Xanatos turned around and happily took his son for a hug and a burping, patting and rubbing his back, but winced when Alexander promptly got a double handful of his hair, which was flowing free from his shoulders tonight instead of being tied back in a ponytail. "Ouch! Ease up, son, okay?" Four months of trying to keep the boy from pulling his beard out by the roots, and now he'd found a new target, the billionaire thought ruefully.
"I'll take him now, sir," Owen said as he appeared in the doorway. "The van is ready for your use."
"Thanks, Owen," Xanatos said as he handed him over, before turning to the gargoyles. "So, will Goliath and Elisa be joining us?"
"No, they're, ah, keeping to themselves again tonight," Lexington said carefully, unsure of what he should say about the situation in front of the humans. "They like the costume you sent over, though."
"That's good," Xanatos said absently, suddenly distracted by Fox, who had wrapped her motorized tail around his leg and was teasingly rubbing it up and down his calf. Never one to be outdone, he sent his own tail over to wrap around her thigh and begin caressing it, and the two of them smiled wickedly at each other before remembering others were present. They reluctantly broke it off to lead the clan to the elevator, and down to the parking garage.
Owen helped Alexander wave bye-bye to them all, but the moment the elevator doors closed, he spun around in a blur of white light, and emerged from it as a wickedly grinning Puck. Alexander clapped delightedly, as Puck said cheerfully, "Well, m'boy, time for your next lesson! Your Uncle Puck is going to teach you… how to have a rollicking good Samhain!"
Back at Elisa's apartment, she had been momentarily distracted from Goliath's side of the conversation by Cagney, who had gone from the end table to the back of the couch and had perched there with his fur fluffed out, giving Goliath a loud scolding for not being more careful with his tail. By the time she had quieted his hisses and growls to purrs again, Goliath had been relaying his instructions and cautions to Brooklyn. After he hung up, she said with some regret, "Poor Brooklyn, to have to restrain himself all night; he's your biggest 'party animal', too."
Goliath nodded, but said with a faint sigh, "He'll find some way to enjoy himself. Right now, shall we eat before our dinner grows cold?"
Their dinner was cooling but not yet cold, and they ate companionably, though Elisa didn't eat more than half of what was on her plate. She somehow never got around to asking just what Goliath thought was so particular about now, to have her eating more than usual, and forgot the question entirely when he insisted on hand-feeding her the brownies she'd made for dessert. And somehow the combination of those double-chocolate-chunk brownies and his loving attentiveness made her decide that she wasn't really too sore for more fun, after all…
Down at the convention center, the party was in full swing, and gargoyles were everywhere. Standing at the bar and sipping his drink through a straw, Brooklyn was a little bemused to find himself surrounded by what seemed to be enough gargoyle females to give every male in the old clan his very own harem. If one ignored the seams, that is, not to mention the ridiculously small feet and limply hanging tails; it was almost pitiful to watch them trying to dance, and tripping over their false appendages.
Lexington was sitting at a table nearby; shortly after they'd arrived, he'd overheard a few words of what Brooklyn privately termed "nerdspeak", and had zeroed in on the conversation and on a group of cyber-enthusiasts like an owl after prey. He'd been with them ever since, bandying about words like RAM and ROM and mega-this and giga-that, and happier than anyone had seen him in weeks.
Broadway was heading over to the buffet again (fourth time or fifth? Oh well, there was still plenty left for the humans), but Angela was still sitting at their table with her drink, swaying happily in time to the live music being played by the band on stage; this particular band was actually pretty good. Judging by the way the tip of her tail was twitching in time to the beat, she really wanted to get up and dance, but they had all agreed that to do so might draw attention to their properly-sized feet, and the fact that they were so much more agile on them than the average costumed human could ever hope to be. So she sat and swayed instead, but was still apparently having a good time. Lovely, lovely Angela… Brooklyn sighed and took another sip of his iced tea.
He would rather be drinking beer instead, like his brothers and Hudson were, or maybe a wine cooler like Angela was drinking; gargoyles had a fairly high tolerance for alcohol, due to their increased metabolism. He had a moment's fond memory of one of Goliath's rookery brothers back in the old clan, one who preferred to swap his kills for beer and ale instead of fresh bread and pastries, and used to enjoy matching drinks with the castle's human guards and drinking any five men under the table at the Solstice celebrations. But as the second-in-command and leading the clan while Goliath was away with Elisa, Brooklyn figured he'd better stay completely sober in case something unexpected happened, like a riot or a Quarryman raid if someone's cover was blown, so he'd just ordered an iced tea instead.
Funny, though, he never knew before how good modern tea could be! This stuff had something of a kick to it, almost like a real alcoholic beverage would. Maybe they just brewed their tea differently out on Long Island. Then he blinked at the sucking sounds coming from his straw instead of tea; how had that disappeared so fast? He shrugged, and dug into the pouch for another one of the twenties Xanatos had liberally supplied them with. "Yo, bartender!"
Over at their table, Xanatos and Fox were enjoying themselves as well, though Xanatos privately found it a little annoying that he had to go get his and Fox's drinks instead of being waited on, as he'd become accustomed to over the last decade or so; anonymity had its drawbacks sometimes. Fox grinned as she discreetly pointed over to another table against the wall, where Hudson had chosen to sit. "Looks like even Hudson is having fun, after all!"
Xanatos followed her gaze, and saw Hudson sitting down with a pair of Klingons in military garb, a Samurai warrior and a pair of Conan-style barbarians, grinning and gesturing widely. Hudson had been a little grumpy about coming to the party in the first place, and almost surly after having his sword "peace-bonded" at the door, tied into its scabbard with a bright orange zip-tie so it couldn't be drawn easily. But by the snatches of conversation the husband and wife overheard, he was having a good time after all; everyone else at the table was acting in character for their outfits, boasting of fantastic past exploits and combat experience, and Hudson was spinning tales and bragging with the best of them… and probably about real experiences, too. Fox said smugly as she turned away again, "I told you this party would be good for everyone."
"So you did, my dear, and you were right as usual," Xanatos said gallantly. Then his eyes widened for just a brief moment, as he saw something over Fox's shoulder. Fox instantly whipped around to see what he was staring at, but saw nothing out of the ordinary, unless you counted the guy straight out of 1001 Arabian Nights who'd just dropped his turban into the punch bowl. Making a mental note to avoid that punch bowl in the future, she turned back and asked, "What is it?"
"Just thought I saw something, but it was probably my eyes playing tricks on me," Xanatos lied easily. He was absolutely not about to tell Fox what he'd actually seen, the reason that caliph had lost his turban; Puck had flitted through the hall with Alexander in his arms, their forms flickering in and out of invisibility, and had paused to jokingly knock the man's turban off while Alexander had happily waved hello to his father. Then they were gone again, so fast that he might have thought it really was his imagination if he wasn't now seeing the indignant caliph, who hadn't seen the swat from behind and thought the werewolf behind him in line had jostled his turban off instead, and was now chewing the poor fuzzy up one side and down the other as he fished the sopping wet chapeau out of the punch bowl.
For the last eight years, ever since he'd discovered Owen Burnett's little secret, Xanatos had always made a point of giving him every Samhain, Beltane and both Winter and Summer Solstice off, so Puck could cut loose and have a little fun on his holidays. After the battle on the night of Alexander's birth, when Oberon had laid a geas on him to restrict his powers except for protecting or tutoring Alexander, Owen had spent Midsummer Eve getting stinking drunk in the castle dungeon. For a brief while Xanatos had kept a sharper eye on Owen than on his son, even while sending out feelers to find Coldstone and begin making reparations to the clan that had helped him; he had been sincerely worried that Owen/Puck's depression would lead to a messy suicide. After all those years of service, Owen was as much a friend and confidant as a personal aide, and David would have cheerfully handed over a million dollars to Good Witch Glenda if he thought she really existed and could do anything towards removing that geas and restoring his friend to normal.
But after that one drunken bout and the two-day hangover that followed, Owen had seemed to come out of it enough to become his ever-efficient personal aide again, though the pain and frustration still lingered if you knew how to look. (And the frustration became almost apparent to the casual observer whenever Owen tried to do a job that required both hands. David sometimes wanted to retroactively kick himself black and blue for not insisting that Puck cast a delayed-action spell to fix that hand within a day of it being turned to stone, instead of just waiting for Owen to become bored with the extra challenge the handicap represented.) Then when Alexander had begun to levitate his 'gargy bear' at only five weeks of age, evidently an earlier bloomer than even the average fully Fey child, Owen had actually smiled briefly at the sight. It meant that the lessons could begin… and Puck could live a little again.
Xanatos understood, as much as was possible for a mundane human to understand, and had given his quiet blessing to Puck taking Alexander along on his Samhain holiday, so long as he kept his son from harm (which Puck would do anyway, since that was part of his geas) and tucked the boy into bed before his parents got home. Xanatos suspected Fox would not be so sanguine about the whole affair if she knew about it… which is why he hadn't breathed one word of it to her. He walked an especially narrow and tricky tightrope tonight, balancing marriage and fatherhood against friendship and loyalty, in addition to the usual business of juggling clan obligations with business relations… Which all made for an utterly exhilarating challenge! He grinned into his glass of wine at the thought.
When Broadway returned to the table he was sharing with Angela, he bowed gallantly and presented her with another wine cooler and a slice of chocolate cake. "For you, dear lady!"
"Why thank you, kind sir!" Angela returned with a smile, though the smile turned wry when she saw what he had in his other hand, another full platter of food for himself. She honestly didn't remember whether that was his fifth plate or his sixth, but she was willing to bet herself that he was going to go back for two more plates after that one was cleaned off. As fond as she was of Broadway, she did wish he'd cut back on the calories; with all his extra weight, she'd be flying rings around him by autumn of next year, a time when he had to be able to catch up with her! But this probably wasn't the best time to bring that up, not when they were all having such a good time. She glanced in Hudson's direction; even Hudson, who had been so grumpy lately, seemed to be having a good time at that table with the other warriors. And Lexington was over there, also grinning from ear to ear… And Brooklyn was… Where'd Brooklyn go? He'd been at the bar right there… Wait, was that him, behind all those… females…
Brooklyn was indeed still at the bar, but now surrounded by girls, all carrying drinks and wearing gargoyle costumes. Three of the four giggling ladies were wearing the cheaper version, with unmoving tail and wings. The fourth must have plunked down a sizeable chunk of change to buy the expensive version, a charcoal gray outfit that fit her like a glove and sported a motorized tail and flappable wings, which she had adorned with golden jewelry that complimented both her "hide" and her scanty red tunic. She was the one currently complimenting him on his costume, saying with a smile as she pointed to the Long Island Iced Tea that he was sipping through a straw (his third or fourth so far), "You must have had a little extra work done on it, to be able to drink through that beak!"
"Uh, yeah, I, uh, got a buddy who owed me a favor and did the work," Brooklyn murmured, trying to talk while keeping his beak closed as much as possible. Some part of him mused absently that charcoal gray had never looked so good on a female before; must be all the jewelry she'd added on to brighten her appearance. Or maybe it was just that she was so utterly stacked, a total babe in wings…
"May I?" Without waiting for an answer, the charcoal gray female abruptly reached up to stroke his beak, before he could jerk away. And after a moment, he didn't want to jerk away; that felt nice! Very nice… "Wow, your buddy did great work," the female said admiringly. "It almost feels real!"
"Like you can tell through the gloves, Janine?" a sapphire-blue female said with a chuckle, but she reached up with her own gloved hands to stroke the other side of his beak. Ooohhh... Brooklyn felt like purring.
"Soooo… you've got a big nose," one of the other females giggled. "And really big feet," as she pointed to Brooklyn's taloned feet, twice the size of their taloned boots.
Brooklyn self-consciously shuffled them, while demanding, "So?"
"Sooo… you know the saying about guys with big feet and big noses?"
All the females broke into peals of giggles, while Brooklyn's eyes went wide.
"No, really! I checked the site out just last night! I'm telling you, they're going to—uh-oh." Lexington abruptly cut himself off, as he spun around in his chair to better see what he had glimpsed out of the corner of his eye.
"What's wrong?" one of his new buddies asked.
"Uh, one of my brothers just might be having a little too much fun," Lexington said as he saw Brooklyn out on the dance floor, apparently dancing with two costumed ladies at once. He was really getting into it, too, spinning and sliding and leaping like he was at an Equinox festival… and the two ladies were loving every minute of it! The gray costumed female was whooping and flapping her wings as Brooklyn lifted her high into the air and spun around, like a rookery keeper letting a hatchling feel the air in her wings. Okay, he was obviously having a great time, but Lexington just knew that any second now somebody would realize that no ordinary human in a costume could be so agile on such big feet…
"Angela, wait! Where are you going?" Broadway asked, as he reached out a hand to keep her from getting up. For the last few minutes she had been getting steadily grimmer as she eyed Brooklyn at the bar with the costumed ladies, paying only minor attention to him and the conversation he was trying to keep going, to distract her away from his rookery brother. Then she'd sat bolt upright and hissed when Brooklyn had grinningly let two of the ladies lead him out onto the dance floor. Broadway was torn between worry and outrage; why was his sweetheart all of a sudden acting all jealous over Brooklyn!
"He said we couldn't dance!" Angela abruptly snarled as she jumped up and stalked away from the table and out to the dance floor, evidently with every intention to stop the dancing and rip Brooklyn a new one. Broadway was so busy being relieved that Angela was apparently just jealous of the dancing, not of Brooklyn, that it took a few moments for him to realize that he was making a big mistake by staying behind. He'd better get out there to calm Angela down before she either drew too much attention to herself by shouting at Brooklyn, or…
Just as he was getting up from the table, it happened. Angela reached Brooklyn just after he set the second costumed lady back on her feet, and when she swung him around to face her with eyes gleaming red, he grinned wide and swung her into a dance as well.
For a few seconds, Angela was so astonished that she forgot she was supposed to be yelling at him, as Brooklyn tossed her into the air while grinning from ear to ear and saying, "Let's show 'em how it's really done!" Then he caught her and began whirling her around in a new dance, a dance unlike the ones she and her brothers had come up with on Avalon but one that still looked fun, and challenging and beautiful… And next thing she knew, she was keeping step with him and laughing like a maniac, having more fun than she'd had in weeks.
And then next thing they both knew, their dance was getting broken up by three very angry people: the two costumed ladies on one side, shouting and shoving at Angela for breaking into their dance with their stud, and she could damn well go find her own! And Broadway was on the other side, swinging at Brooklyn and bellowing for him to keep his hands off Angela, or he'd get his beak shoved back down his throat!
"Oh, gravel!" Lex blurted out, while jumping up from his seat. And this had been such a great party, too…
Two tables away, Xanatos and Fox had been enjoying the sight of Brooklyn dancing with the two costumed ladies. "Looks like somebody's really loosened up tonight," Xanatos said with a grin.
"Mm-hmm," Fox said, appreciatively eyeing the moves of his dance steps. "I wonder if we could dance like that in these outfits?"
But before they could get up to try it, Angela came up to interrupt the dance, and got pulled into the next one instead. Now Brooklyn's moves became even wilder, stronger and even more agile, and somehow even more sensuous; eyeing him, Xanatos would have bet his next million that Brooklyn was doing the gargoyle version of a mating dance, or at least a courtship dance. He and Fox met each other's eyes as they chorused together, "Uh-oh." They also got up from their table, just as Broadway reached the dancing couple and took his first swing.
Hudson paused in the middle of his tale about the Viking raid of 918, when he saw the commotion out on the dance floor. "Youngsters," he said with a sad but sage shake of his head. "All hormones and no brains. If ye'll excuse me, fellow warriors, I've got to go cool off some heads," as he got up and headed out to the fight, grabbing pitchers of ice water from the tables he passed on the way.
Between Lexington, Xanatos, Fox, Hudson and two pitchers of ice-cold water, they managed to break up the fight before it spread into a full-fledged riot, though it was a near thing for a moment or two. "That's it, folks, party's over," Xanatos said grimly as he and Hudson dragged away a soaked and sputtering Broadway and Brooklyn, while Fox hustled along a scratched and seething Angela. "We've drawn to much attention to ourselves; time to leave before someone notices too much."
"I just knew it," Lexington groaned as he followed them out. "And it was such a great party, too…"
Down in the Labyrinth, Maggie and Derek stood at the door to their rooms and together waved bye-bye to the group that had just left, and was going on to the next home: what Derek had earlier dubbed "the trick-or-treat brigade." The twins Jody and Judy Jackson, little Bethany Marsden and her mother Anne, and all the gargoyle clones waved back before proceeding down the corridor, skipping and singing. Either Jody or Judy had taught the gargoyles a new song when they'd woken up earlier, and now they all chanted gleefully, "Trick or treat! Smell my feet! Give me something good to eat!"
"Kids," Derek said with a chuckle and a rueful shake of his head as they went back inside and closed the door.
"It was nice of Xanatos to send down all those boxes of candy a few days ago, so we could organize a trick-or-treat route down here," Maggie said with a smile. Once the gargoyle clones had heard about Halloween and trick-or-treating from Jody and Judy, the mutates had realized they would have had five gargoyle-sized tantrums if they didn't arrange for something equally fun that would keep them from going door to door up in the city. Now Maggie's smile became a bit worried as she added, "I just hope the kids don't get sick from all that candy; I don't have the first idea on how to treat a gargoyle with a stomachache!"
"Aw, they'll be okay, honey. And if not, at least a day's sleep will cure them." Then Derek snickered. "I thought I was going to bust my guts, trying to keep from laughing at Hollywood's costume. A 'ghost' in a daisy-print bedsheet!"
Maggie snickered too in remembrance. "But you have to admit Burbank made a pretty good pirate… or would have if he'd found a parrot to sit on his shoulder, instead of that teddy bear he was holding in place with his wing-talon. I was sooo tempted to say, 'Pooky want a cracker?' "
Derek doubled over and roared with laughter, and the two collapsed on their couch together, laughing fit to burst. After a little while, Derrek wiped the tears from his eyes with one hand while he dug into the bowl of candy on the end table with the other. "We got any of those licorice sticks left?"
Just then, they heard knocking on their door, the rapid drum-solo style of knocking that meant Dana was on the other side. Maggie got up and answered the door. "Hi, Dana! Hi, Claw!" she said with a smile as she signed a greeting to them as well. "What's up?"
Dana and Claw, the Labyrinth's other set of newlyweds, were both grinning from ear to ear as they signed that they wanted their friends to come with them up Topside; they had a surprise for them…
Up in the city, outside the convention center, the partygoers had a surprise in store for them as well, though not a pleasant one. "Oh, great," Fox sighed as she viewed the van they had all come to the party in. It was still where they'd left it in the underground parking garage, but somebody had let the air out of all four tires.
"But why only our van?" Brooklyn said as he looked around suspiciously. "Guys, I can think of only one reason for us to be singled out… Let's get back up to street-level. We're going as fast as we can without running to draw even more attention to ourselves, and everyone stay alert for guys in dark blue hoods," he said as he gestured urgently.
"Aye, Second," Hudson said grimly as he popped the peace-bonding off his sheathed sword, so it could be drawn instantly if trouble presented itself. The gargoyles instinctively formed a protective cordon around Fox and Xanatos as they moved swiftly through the parking garage, heads swiveling in all directions as they watched for Quarrymen.
Xanatos was both secretly annoyed at the way the gargoyles had instinctively moved to protect the 'helpless humans' with them, and even more secretly had a warm and fuzzy feeling at the way he and Fox were becoming fully part of their clan, like Elisa Maza already was. But mainly, he was very annoyed and suspicious about their transportation being sabotaged, because he could think of another reason for it to be singled out: Puck didn't want the evening to end yet.
Owen had agreed to have Alexander back in bed by the time his parents got home, but if they didn't get home from the party right away, then he'd have that much longer to play, wouldn't he? Xanatos resolved to have a little talk with his personal aide in the morning, as he moved as swiftly as he could on tip-toe up to street level and out of the garage. But just in case he was wrong, he quietly slipped his miniature laser pistol out of its sheath inside his left taloned boot, while noting that Fox had just as quietly slipped matching stilettos out of the sheaths concealed inside her wing struts. (His lovely, lethal wife never left home unprepared for combat, and had devised lots of interesting ways to conceal weaponry in clothing; Xanatos had once joked that she should start a line of clothing for assassins and mercenaries, "Crossfire Fashions.")
They made it out of the garage without further incident, and paused on the sidewalk to reassess the situation. The area around the convention center was too crowded for them to start climbing the walls unnoticed, with partygoers still coming and going in all directions, so they decided to walk for a few blocks until they could find a quiet alley to slip into.
Still alert for Quarrymen, they moved in a group down the street. They'd gone about two blocks when Broadway, their rear guard, gasped, "Hey, look!" They spun around to see what he was pointing at, and collectively exclaimed in surprise, as two huge Harley-Davidson motorcycles roared up to and past them, with four very distinctive riders.
Talon was in the lead, grinning from ear to ear as he leaned over the handlebars of his cycle, with his wife Maggie on the seat behind him and hugging him for dear life while shrieking, "Wheeee!" Dana, dressed in biker leathers, was at the controls of the second Harley while Claw hugged her from behind; they were also grinning from ear to ear.
The gargoyles whooped and hollered at them as they roared past, and the riders slowed and stopped as they realized that the group they had just passed weren't just another bunch of civilians in costumes. "Hey, people! Happy Halloween!" Talon called out after he'd turned his bike around and coasted it down the street towards them. "You having a good time too?"
"We were having a great time, until just a little while ago," Brooklyn said ruefully. "Where'd you get the bikes?"
Talon jerked a thumb back at Claw and Dana, who had also turned around and were coming back with big welcoming grins on their faces. "You'd have to ask them; all they told us is that one of Dana's friends owed her a big favor, and is loaning us the bikes for the night. We just figured, 'Don't look a gift horse in the mouth' and hopped on; this is the first time I've had a set of wheels to ride in nearly two years!" He patted the Harley frame fondly as he added, "This is even better than my old rig; man, the times I used to have with that bike, riding the wind and cruising for babes..." Then he gave a small guilty start at the soft but pointed "ahem!" coming from directly behind him, reminding him that he was married now, and soon to be a family man to boot.
"Yeah, I'll bet," Brooklyn said with a wistful sigh. "Don't suppose Dana could get her hands on another couple of bikes?" Since his beak made lip-reading impossible, Talon signed the question to Dana, but she shook her head and smiled ruefully; she'd used up her favor and more just by borrowing two bikes instead of one. Talon relayed that back to the gargoyles, even as Lexington teased Brooklyn that they didn't dare loan him a bike anyway, since he'd wrecked the one that Lex had put together two years ago. Brooklyn retorted that he'd handled that bike just fine, and it wasn't his fault the thing had been blown up by that biker gang he'd run into, while it was Lexington who had ridden a bike right into a wall on the night they'd first started exploring Manhattan!
"Where are Elisa and Goliath?" Maggie asked, looking around for them. "I thought they'd be enjoying Halloween night too."
His increased metabolism and the threat of danger had done a lot to return Brooklyn to full sobriety from drinking those funny iced teas, but he still had a little ways to go yet. He opened his beak with a wry grin and said, "Oh, they're not going out tonight; it's kind of weird, but nowadays when Elisa's feYOWWW!"
"Oops, sorry!" Angela said sweetly as she took her taloned foot off Brooklyn's tail. "Elisa's feeling a little sick tonight, and nowadays when she does feel ill, Father just hovers all over her, and tries to make her stay covered up and drink chicken soup and such. It's just our protective nature," she told the mutates with an expressive shrug.
"I think it's very sweet," Maggie said with a smile.
"I think Goliath's got an uphill battle on his hands, trying to make my sister slow down and take care of herself," was Talon's amused opinion. He almost snickered aloud at the thought of Goliath bustling around the kitchen making chicken soup like his mother used to, and wearing the same frilly apron.
Meanwhile, Fox had been looking thoughtfully at those Harleys, with an ever-widening grin on her face. Now she spoke up, asking "David, darling, when's the last time you were on a motorcycle?"
"Hmmm… Not anytime this decade," David answered honestly. Building up and running a multinational corporation hadn't left a lot of time for joyriding. He used to enjoy borrowing a high school buddy's beat-up old Honda motorcycle to ride through the streets of Bar Harbor when he was a teenager, and had bought himself a top-of-the-line Kawasaki 'crotch-rocket' to celebrate his first buyout, but he wasn't even sure if that was still in the parking garage beneath the Aerie building anymore.
"It's only been a year or so since I rode my Valkyrie, and I know your mechanics on staff have been keeping it ready for me. What say we challenge our friends to a little friendly race?"
"Yeeeeee-hawwww!" Brooklyn crowed as he pumped his fist into the air, while racing down the deserted street near the docks. The parking garage under the Aerie Building had indeed held both Fox's and Xanatos' motorcycles, and a third Harley belonging to the nighttime attendant (which he was happy to loan the group, after Xanatos tipped him an extra five hundred.) Now everyone was taking turns riding the cycles down the deserted street they'd chosen for racing; Hudson cruised alongside Brooklyn for this run, grinning as his beard whipped back in the winds, crouched over the handlebars of his Harley and looking like he was born to ride it. Broadway was right on their tails on the third Harley, also grinning from ear to ear.
They reached the other end of the street where Claw and Dana were waiting, and Claw whipped his wing out and down for the finish flag as Brooklyn flashed past, winning this race by a beak. "Whoo-hooo, Brooklyn!" Fox cheered him, pumping her fist in the air.
Angela applauded him, then grinned at Lexington as she asked, "Are all Halloweens this much fun?"
Lexington grinned back but admitted, "I'd say this one's the best one ever!"
It was definitely the most fun Halloween he'd had in years, Xanatos admitted to himself as he overheard their words. Last year, he and Fox had to cancel their party when Fox suddenly discovered 'morning sickness' could last all day. And the year before that, he'd spent the night chasing after her were-fox form, trying to save her from the effects of the Eye of Odin. And for too many years before that, he'd been too busy making millions to enjoy the holiday. He snickered at himself as he realized that having gargoyles around the house was 'more fun than a barrel of monkeys!' (And he'd just love to see Marketing trying to make a commercial around that theme…)
Dawn came to Manhattan eventually, and the happily tired gargoyles trooped out to their perches to strike poses for the day. Xanatos and Fox were already sound asleep in their beds, as was little Alexander; when they had gone in to check on him after returning home, they'd found him already sound asleep in his crib and Owen quietly sitting in the rocking chair reading a novel, as though they had never left the building.
"This was such a grand night!" Angela sighed happily, as she crouched slightly as if preparing to spring and spread her talons out to rend thin air, not quite able to wipe off the smile and make a scowl to complete the pose.
"It sure wa--" Brooklyn couldn't finish his reply, cut off by the transformation to stone for sleep.
Across town, Elisa draped the tarpaulin once more over the stone form of her lover, and sighed contentedly as she went to bed. Yes, she was still very tender in certain areas, but some more Motrin would help with that, and the sweet memories she and Goliath had made that night would be enough to sustain her for the rest of the week. She just hoped she could keep from reminiscing too much the next night, when she went back to work.
That sunset, when Goliath awoke he found Elisa waiting for him, and hugged her upon greeting as per usual. Oh, she still smelled so wonderful….
"Evening, Big Guy," she said with a smile as she returned the hug, snuggling close. "I've got dinner ready, if you want to eat before going back to… Ahem," as she felt the subtle pressure of his arousal already making itself evident. "Ah, Big Guy, I hate to disappoint you, but I'm working tonight, remember?"
Goliath gave a growling sigh. "I know. But… Surely you don't have to leave just yet?"
Elisa rolled her eyes and muttered something that Goliath was certain he wasn't supposed to hear, something about a satyr with wings. "Big Guy, when I'm working, I need to be focused on the job, not on my off-duty life, delightful as that may be. And if we get started now and don't, well, get satisfied before I have to leave for work, trust me, my mind will not be on my work. And you know as well as I do, in my line of work, inattention could get somebody killed." If not herself, then her partner, or one of the citizens they'd sworn to protect.
Goliath sighed heavily and nodded. "I understand. Leaving you in frustration would not be wise."
Elisa smiled and patted his cheek. "I'm glad you understaaaand!" as she was swept off her feet and into his arms.
"Perfectly," Goliath smugly grinned down at her. "I must ensure you're absolutely satisfied… And I believe I can do that in short order."
"B-but I just made dinner!"
"Which we will eat afterwards. We can reheat it if necessary," Goliath purred, "but I intend to ensure that ere you leave this apartment, you will be completely satisfied." And Elisa knew that he was referring to more than just her stomach.
There was no denying that gleam in his eyes, and Elisa finally gave in and relaxed in his arms. "But still able to walk straight?" she pleaded as he carried her inside.
"And still able to walk," he agreed as he strode with her into the bedroom.
Afterwards, lying on the bed and wrapped in one of his wings, Elisa decided that she had indeed been fully satisfied. And they might not even have to reheat dinner all that much; Goliath had also proved himself to be well versed in the art of 'quickies.'
Lying on the bed beside her and draping a wing over her, Goliath lovingly ran his talons through her hair and caressed her cheek, and abruptly asked her pleadingly, "Elisa… Would you call in sick for tonight? Just for tonight, please… Just give me, give us this one more night…"
Now Elisa was getting annoyed. "Goliath… I love you, but you have got to learn how to keep it in your loincloth again! We both have duties, you to your clan and I to the police force, and my family! I know it's great to be 'getting some' again, but we can't just make love '24-7'! …Well, '12-7' or close to that. We can't just put the world on hold indefinitely!"
"I know," Goliath groaned, looking miserable. "But surely just one more night…"
"No," Elisa said firmly, as she rolled out from under his wing and got out of bed. "Now, will you go and reheat dinner while I take another quick shower?"
They ate dinner together in strained silence, and soon afterwards, Elisa grabbed her jacket, badge and gun and headed for the door. "Look at it this way," she tried to comfort Goliath as she gave him a peck on the cheek. "This will give me a few days to save up strength for our next weekend…" Goliath half-smiled, and she went on, "I'm sure the clan would like to have you back, too. If you stay over here any longer, they might accuse me of trying to steal you away from them!"
Goliath snorted. "Believe me, Elisa, they understand why I'm here! Though we still haven't done what's proper and…" he abruptly stopped and turned away, growling softly.
Elisa winced, painfully aware of what he had been going to say. They still hadn't had a formal mating ceremony for the clan. Goliath had brought the subject up only once before, and dropped the subject immediately when Elisa pretended not to catch his rather broad hinting. But apparently he wasn't completely happy with their 'living in sin'... She wanted to hold him and reassure him that no ceremony could make her love him more, but instead just said, "I'll call you after my shift's over, okay? I love you, Big Guy," as she tried to reach up and kiss his cheek, but could reach only his shoulder at that angle. She kissed that anyway, then went miserably off to work.
After she left the apartment, Goliath growled again and came to a decision. He dug into the sofa and lifted out the cushions until he found the communicator he'd taken off so abruptly two nights ago, then slid open the door to the balcony while he called the castle. "Brooklyn? Elisa has left for work, but I'll be staying near her all night…"
Matt was waiting for her when she got to the station, barely on time for the start of their shift. "Hey, partner!" he greeted her. "Enjoy your weekend?"
"Yeah, I did," she said with a half-smile. If only it hadn't ended on such a bad note…
"So, what did you think of all those gargoyle costumes?" Glancing around quickly to see if anyone was near enough to overhear, he confided, "Some of them were so realistic from a distance, I was almost wondering if Goliath had made another trip to Avalon and brought back a few more."
"Except the feet are too small," Elisa said absently as she sat down at her desk. "And they're ground-bound, too; there's not enough control over the wings to try to glide with them like the originals do."
"Yeah, although a few people in the city must have decided to find out for themselves; Garfunkel's cousin over at Mercy General Hospital told him they got over twice the usual number of fall-caused injuries over the weekend. A lot of kids, but a lot more adults than usual, too; most of them probably thought a little liquid fuel would help," he added. She knew what he was referring to; it was amazing sometimes, the things people would think were perfectly reasonable to do after only a few beers. Right down to that incident they still talked about over in Chicago, the 'do-it-yourself brain surgery' case… "Anyway, we got a file here from… our friends' landlord," he said cautiously as somebody walked past on the way to the coffeepot. He handed over a folder containing a thin sheaf of papers as he said, "At first I thought those costumes were going to make our job one helluva lot harder, but this might actually make it easier…"
Goliath entered the clock tower for the first time since being chased there by the Quarrymen, on his and Elisa's first 'date' upon their return to Manhattan. At that time, survival had taken precedence over reminiscence, but even so memories had crowded in. Now he was being driven by a different urgency, but he took the time to look around, and remember how this place had looked when the clan had made it their home. Hudson's easy chair had been over there… The television had been over there… That corner had been Broadway's kitchenette… And that corner was where they had left Coldstone to rest, and hopefully conquer the turmoil in his mind on his own. Instead, Demona and MacBeth had forced him back to consciousness with the war between souls still waging within. Now, after Puck's well-meaning trickery, his rookery brother was alone in that cyborg body, with the spirits of his mate and that hateful brother now housed in shells of their own. He hadn't seen them since the night of the soul transference; where were they now?
Memories of family, not just of those reborn in this time but of those still and ever a thousand years dead, filled his mind for a bare moment before he ruthlessly thrust them aside. Dwelling on the past was for dreaming during the day, not for living in the night! Just as vigorously as he'd thrust the memories aside, he tossed debris aside until he found what he was looking for: the trapdoor access to the old library downstairs, and the police station below that. Going all the way down to the station was out of the question, but there was a second perch that might do for monitoring his beloved's safety; that spot in the library almost directly over her desk.
He moved through the library with increasing dismay; it still looked like the aftermath of war, with shelves knocked over and in pieces and books strewn everywhere. Didn't anyone else care about all the knowledge and wisdom to be found in these tomes? He sighed, pondering taking it upon himself to remove those books that could still be saved and take them elsewhere; perhaps back to the castle, though Xanatos' personal library was over four times the size of this. Then he put that out of his mind as well, as he searched for that particular spot over Elisa's desk. He had found that spot by accident a few weeks after they had moved into the clock tower; he'd been reading Tolstoy and struggling to comprehend a particularly difficult passage when he'd been distracted by a voice drifting up from beneath his feet. The sound had been so faint, human ears probably wouldn't have heard it, but his ears were far sharper, and he knew that particular voice well already; Elisa had been shouting, highly irate at somebody. (From the tone of voice she'd been using, he'd almost come to believe that "bureaucrat" was a new obscenity.)
He paused over a bare section of floor faintly inscribed with an X from his toe-talons, crouched down and put his ear to the ground. Yes, that was her voice drifting up through the ceiling of her workplace. A calm, everynight tone of voice, no trace of urgency; no danger was near for the moment. He heard a male voice responding, and stiffened for a moment. Matt Bluestone. He also sounded calm, not urgent or passionate over anything; Goliath told himself to relax a little. He settled down on his side with his ear to the floor to listen for a while. Elisa was saying something about a burglary, one that had occurred last night…
After almost an hour or so of quiet listening, Goliath was much calmer, a little bored and more than a little ashamed of himself. Really, it was time to end this… inappropriate behavior and get back to the clan, and let Elisa do her duties as a detective and police officer. He was just about to get up off the floor when he heard someone beneath him bellowing Elisa's last name, and Matt's. A female, possibly that Captain Chavez Elisa had mentioned from time to time… He set his ear to the floor and listened again. The assumed captain was ordering Elisa and Matt to go to a brownstone on 42nd street; a body had just been found inside one of the rooms… or rather, most of a body. A body in pieces! This did not sound good…
"Well, it's been a few months since we've had a dismemberment," Matt commented wryly as he got into the passenger's seat of the Fairlane, while Elisa started the engine.
"Guess we were overdue for one, then," Elisa commented just as wryly as she put it in gear and they rolled out, not noticing the shadow that flitted across the street in front of the Fairlane, then fell in behind to pace them all the way to their destination.
They were shown to the room by Officer Jansen, a rookie from their precinct, one of the two patrolmen who had first responded to the call about an awful smell emanating from the third-floor apartment, which had been silent for at least the last two nights. The rookie looked like he'd tossed his cookies recently, and neither Matt nor Elisa could blame him when they caught the unmistakable odors of a corpse starting to rot. Even Officer Morgan, the more experienced patrolman who had stayed just inside the door to keep the curious from contaminating the crime scene, looked like he'd come very close to ralphing recently. Matt was very glad he'd had the precaution to grab surgical masks as well as gloves for them both from the kit in the car.
"Male, mid-twenties, at first guess of Hispanic descent," Matt said for the record, the matter-of-fact tone of his voice not matching the look in his eyes. "…and dead at least two days, judging solely from the smell."
"Victim is lying face-up on the floor, approximately eight feet from the door… in a pool of blood, probably the victim's own. Victim's right arm appears to have been removed at the shoulder," Elisa said quietly. "Blood and indications of blunt trauma on right side of head… Skull appears to have been caved in slightly." She swallowed. "It's a toss-up as to whether he died from the head injury or from the loss of blood, when the arm was… ripped right out of its socket." She started to get up from her crouch by the body, then changed her mind and got down on hands and knees instead, looking around from that level on a hunch. Moments later she reported, "The arm itself was evidently kicked under the sofa, there."
"Where's the super for this building?" Matt asked Morgan. "Do we have a name for the renter yet?"
"The super's not home, but the downstairs neighbor who called in the smell said he once heard the renter being called Hector."
"Hector Ramirez," Elisa said as she snapped her fingers. "I thought he looked familiar! Vice brought him in for pimping a while back, but the case got tossed out of court on a technicality; he got 'Slick Sennett' to defend him."
"Sennett's one of Dracon's pet lawyers, isn't he?" Matt commented. "So now we have an ID… and maybe a motive. Downstairs neighbor have anything else to add?"
Morgan glanced to Jansen, whom he'd sent to get witness statements while waiting for the detectives to arrive, and Jansen glanced at his notes. "He said he's sure he saw Hector two nights ago, when he was taking out the trash, but not since then. He's also noticed him having a steady stream of 'girlfriends' in the past, probably his stable. None of them have gone past his door and up to the third floor that he can recall for the last two nights, either."
"Did either of you check out the apartment any further after you found the body?" Elisa asked. When the patrolmen said no, they'd waited there to prevent contaminating possible evidence, Elisa nodded and moved carefully into the apartment. A few spatters of blood, probably dripping from the killer's hands/instruments, led off into a hall on the left; she moved along it, keeping to the sides of the hall to avoid stepping on whatever footprints might have been left by the perp.
The hall led to the bedroom, the door to which was open; Elisa carefully stepped inside and gave it a once-over for first impression. A king-sized bed in the center, of course; an old-fashioned four-poster, with a mattress and box springs but without sheets; perhaps they'd been taken earlier for cleaning, or perhaps to remove evidence. There were remnants of chains at each corner of the bed… She took a closer look. The chains were thin, the type often used on dog leads; thin, but very tough and not easy to break. But each thin chain ended with a broken link, and a few other links looked twisted and stretched, as though tugged at with incredible strength. The bedroom window was wide open, as well; Elisa looked out, and sighed when she saw the fire escape just outside.
"Looks like Hector had a 'playmate' on the night he croaked," Elisa reported as she went back into the living room. The person on the bed either freed herself/himself or was freed by somebody else with one helluva lot of strength; strong enough to pull dog lead chains apart…"
"And strong enough to rip a man's arm off, and beat him to death with it," Matt finished, just a little paler than usual. They shared a tense glance between them; they knew of people who were that strong and stronger, people who sported wings on their backs.
But it was Jansen who actually said it: "Do you think a gargoyle did it?" When the others turned and glared at him, he said defensively, "Well, they're strong enough…"
Morgan said slowly, "Jansen, I like you; you've got sense for a rookie. So I'm going to just ask three questions: How many crooks have we found gift-wrapped for us in the last six months?"
"Uh… six for us personally; I dunno about the other patrols."
"And were any of them more than roughed up a little?"
"Just that one busted hand for the mugger who got his gun crunched while he was still holding it, and probably a concussion for that would-be rapist; the rest were only bruised."
"And what do you think would happen if, even before Forensics has a chance to look for telltale claw marks, we breathed even one word of suspicion about this being done by a gargoyle?"
"I'll answer that one," Elisa broke in tensely. "Mass hysteria, rioting… Jansen, if this was done by a real gargoyle, we'll find out eventually. But until we're absolutely, 100 sure, the smart thing to do is to keep your mouth glued shut about it." After a few moments of silence all around, she said, "Odds are that whoever did this left by the open window and the fire escape. I'm going outside to look around a little."
She went out to the alley and looked around; with all the crud lying underfoot, finding useable evidence was going to be hard. But she had come out for more than to gather evidence, but to gather her thoughts as well. The pimp had been murdered by somebody super-strong, and she had to admit that 'super-strong vigilante' was a pretty good description of a gargoyle, but she knew in her gut that none of the clan had done this. After the Quarrymen had come into being Goliath had forbidden solo patrols, and while one gargoyle might, just possibly might, get angry enough to do this in the heat of the moment, the other patroller would surely have stopped him before he could commit murder. But if not one of the clan, then who? Demona? It was a faint possibility, if she'd seen a woman helplessly manacled to the bed and if she'd decided that sisterhood came before species… But frankly, it was easier to believe in an honest politician than in a change of heart for that thousand-year-old psychopath.
She was distracted from her musings by a very quiet voice coming from the communicator she'd planted in her jacket collar years ago, and recently gotten fixed again courtesy of Xanatos. "Elisa?"
That was Goliath's voice; she'd know it anywhere, anywhen. She keyed the mike and whispered back, "What's up, Big Guy?"
"I'm on top of the building on the left side of the alley you're in." Goliath said into his communicator. He saw her glancing upwards, and gave her a quick wave from his perch three stories up. "I was on patrol and happened to see your car going past," he continued, glad he was too far up for her to see how his tail was squirming at the uncomfortable lie. "Is anything the matter?"
"You could say that, yeah. When you saw the clan, did any of them say anything about spotting anything… unusual while on patrol two nights ago, after 'Man of La Mancha'?"
Goliath inwardly cursed at himself, for not getting a briefing from Brooklyn on the events of the last two nights while he was in the library monitoring Elisa. Aloud, he answered without technically lying, "None of them have said anything to me about odd events yet. Why?"
Elisa said, apparently thinking out loud, that the murder could easily have happened while everyone was watching the play. Then she relayed to Goliath what had been found inside the brownstone, and the rookie's speculations. Goliath said firmly, trying not to sound offended, "None of the clan would have done that!"
"Hey, I know that, I'm just telling you what the rookie's first thought was. Which means that whoever this guy is, we've got to catch him before the Quarrymen get wind of this and start trumpeting it as a reason to wipe out all the 'winged monsters'."
Goliath agreed with her, then whipped his head around as his ears caught the noise coming from a few blocks away. "Gunshots, coming from the east!" he reported tersely, as he launched and wheeled around to glide in that direction.
Matt had decided to follow Elisa out for a quiet conference about what he and the patrolmen had discovered while she was out of the room, and reached it just as Elisa was jumping back into her car. "Hey, where're you going?" he protested, while lunging for the passenger's door.
"Goliath reported hearing gunshots just a few blocks east of here," Elisa said tersely as she started the car, barely waiting for Matt to get inside before putting it in gear and pulling out.
Matt slapped the magnetic light assembly on, then grabbed the mike built into the Fairlane's dashboard and switched the radio to the frequency Elisa used for communicating with the gargoyles. "Goliath, we're rolling; give us a location!" He'd wait until later to tell her what he and the patrolmen had found, when they had eased the ripped-off arm out from under the sofa. The wrist of the arm had claw-marks sunk deep into it, but the marks of a clawed and five-fingered hand…
Goliath led them East in their search for the person who had fired the shots, and they came up to a grocery store with freshly broken glass just as the radio squawked to life again on the police frequency; a robbery had just been reported there. The gunmen were armed and dangerous, having already shot two people inside the all-night grocer. "We're on it!" Matt reported tersely, as the Fairlane sped after the car leaving the scene with two men inside, one of whom hadn't even taken his stocking mask off yet.
A high-speed chase ensued, going for several blocks until one of the perpetrators decided to start shooting out the window at them. That was all the excuse Matt needed to start shooting back, and he blew out the right rear tire, causing the car to veer wildly and ultimately crash near an alley entrance. The gunmen scrambled out while the Fairlane swerved and braked to avoid getting caught in the crash, and ran down into the alley, ignoring the detectives' shouts to stop. The alley was partially blocked by the wrecked car, so driving the Fairlane down it in pursuit was not an option; Matt and Elisa swore under their breaths as they started to go after them on foot. But before they even got to the alley entrance, they heard the roar of an angry gargoyle, accompanied by the screams of the gunmen, and more shooting.
"Goliath!" Elisa put on an extra burst of speed and ran into the alley ahead of Matt, just as Goliath finished bouncing the second gunman off the nearest wall. That gunman ended up sprawling face-up on the pavement as opposed to his buddy, who was already face-down at Goliath's feet. Goliath stood over them for a moment, growling and examining his left wing, as Elisa ran up to him. "Goliath, are you all right? Oh God, they shot you!" as she saw the blood dripping from the edge of the wing
"He just nicked the edge of the membrane," Goliath tried to reassure her "No great damage done…" He omitted to say that it stung like mad, though, and if he didn't find a sterile needle and thread before dawn and stitch the nick shut, it was apt to heal into a permanent nick in his until-now perfectly edged wings. Unlike Hudson, whose wings proudly bore the scars of decades of battle, Goliath was just a little vain about his huge wingspan and had always tried to maintain his wings in perfect condition. He had a momentary flashback to his younger days, when his Angel of the Night used to tease him with her tail, to distract him from the pain as she sewed a tear shut for him… Live in the now, he silently reminded himself.
"You've got to be more careful," Elisa scolded him gently as she finally reached his side, and leaned in for a hug that was as much for her reassurance as his. He gave and accepted the hug willingly… even though, as he breathed her scent in deeply, a tiny part of his mind was exclaiming in dismay, here we go again…
Elisa sensed him tensing up instead of relaxing as the hug went on, and was about to ask him if something was wrong, when the crook by their feet started to stir and moan. Goliath rumbled deep in his chest, his eyes started to glow and his grip on Elisa tightened, even as he swiftly brought his tail around and delivered a massive swat to the crook's head. "Goliath!" Elisa exclaimed in outrage and dismay as the crook was not only knocked unconscious again but shoved two feet further away by the force of the blow. "What the heck was that for!"
Matt had reached them by then, but had decided to go over and cuff the second burglar rather than disturb their hug. He looked up at the sound of the blow, and was just as dismayed as Elisa when he realized that the heretofore-noble gargoyle had just hit a man already down. "Hey, what'd you do that for?" he protested as he came over with another pair of cuffs for the crook… and backpedaled hastily, his eyes wide, when Goliath turned that growl and white-eyed glare on him as well.
"What the Hell? …Okay, that's it. Over here, Big Guy," as Elisa grabbed Goliath's arm and dragged him further down the alley. Once they were far enough away that they could talk without being overheard, she dropped his arm and spun around to face him, demanding, "Just what the heck is going on with you tonight! That is Matt, my partner, you just growled at! My partner, as in the guy who guards my back when I'm on duty! What's the deal, don't you trust him anymore? Don't you trust me!"
Goliath growled and shuffled his toe-talons, as embarrassed as Elisa had ever seen him. "Yes, I trust him! If he were thinking of courting you, he would have done it by now!" Elisa's eyes widened, but before she could say anything he went on, "My head knows that he can be trusted, my head knows that you have your duty to do, as I have mine. But… the rest of me…" He sighed and shook his head. "Elisa, every instinct in my body is roaring at me to stay close to you, to protect you from harm and from other males while you're fertile."
Elisa stared at him open-mouthed for a moment, before croaking, "While I'm what?"
"While you're fertile. I've heard how some females can't even tell when they are, but Elisa, I know." He tapped his nose with a talon. "Your scent changes, and when I came to you two nights ago I could tell immediately. That's part of why I've, ah, been so, er, vigorous for the last two nights, and why I'm having such difficulty letting you do your duty tonight. After it began to affect me but before we became mates, I dealt with it by keeping my distance on those nights of your fertile periods, and telling myself that you deserved a human mate, that I had no right to you. But now that we are mates, I can't do that anymore, not and remain sane! So please, will you take the rest of the night off from your duties and come home with me, before I attack the next male to come within six paces of you!"
Elisa stared at him, but she could tell he was deadly serious. He was fighting right now the instinct to beat Matt Bluestone to a bloody pulp, carry her off somewhere far away from other males, and try once more to fertilize his mate and pass on his genes, even though they both knew it would be a wasted effort. She sighed, and told him to stay there while she went back to Matt and the Fairlane. She knew without looking back that Goliath's eyes were glowing again as they followed her every move down the alley, but he managed—barely—to stay put as requested.
Matt had finished cuffing the second perp while they were talking, and was debating whether to haul them into the back seat of the Fairlane or call for a regular police pickup wagon, when Elisa handed him her car keys. "Matt, you got it for the rest of the night. Tell Captain Chavez that I've got, um, an upset stomach tonight from either the dismemberment or too many doughnuts, and you drove me home so I could sleep it off. And I'm taking my phone off the hook when I get home, okay?"
Matt stared at her in amazement. He could count on the fingers of one hand the number of times Elisa had let him drive while on their duties, and only once before had it occurred without him having to beg for it first. And she almost never cut out of work, unless the gargoyles needed her for something. What did Goliath need her for tonight? Just then, the light bulb lit. His eyes narrowed, and he said slowly, "You're going with Goliath… back to your apartment. And you're taking the phone off the hook."
Elisa blushed almost as red as her magnetic light assembly. Yep, they were lovers now. Matt felt an irrational burst of jealousy, but fought it down, very much aware that Goliath could turn him into a pile of hamburger without even breaking a sweat. Besides, Elisa and he were partners, no more and no less. Still, he cocked an eyebrow at her and said sardonically, "This is none of my business, but the Big Guy's got to tone down those caveman instincts if you expect to keep doing your job for the city."
"You're right, it's none of your business!" Elisa snapped at him. Then she sighed, "And those instincts are what we've got to discuss right now, so I'll see you later. Drop my car off after shift's over, okay?"
Matt agreed to take care of her car for her, so Elisa walked back down the alley to where Goliath was waiting. She told him, "Just this once, I repeat, just this one time, I'm clocking off early. And when we get back to my apartment, we have got to talk about these instincts of yours, and how to deal with them."
"When we get there," Goliath agreed as he carried her up the side of the building, and leaped off with her in his arms. But on the way to the apartment, her nearness and his breeding instincts combined to make her irresistibly attractive to him, and Elisa was soon discovering just how gargoyles can mate in midair…
A short while later, they landed on her balcony, Goliath with somewhat stumbling movements as his passions were so utterly spent. Turning off the delayed alarm and letting them back into the apartment, Elisa mused, "Somebody downtown is going to be wondering in the morning how that loincloth ended up on their fire escape."
Goliath half-chuckled uneasily, as they sat down on the couch together. "I'll need to rig a new loincloth before I can return to the castle. I, ah, apologize for losing some of your clothing as well, but I just… Well, in a mating flight, that sort of thing happens, unless the mates think to strip before launching."
Elisa smiled wryly as she nodded. "I can believe it. So, I take it mating flights are the usual way for gargoyles to, uh, consummate their union?"
He nodded. "Yes. Angela will have one too, eventually, probably with Broadway if I'm reading the signs right." He sat back and smiled contentedly, adding, "Though I doubt theirs will be as glorious as ours just was. Oh, my love, it was as wonderful as a breeding flight!"
"Breeding flight?" Elisa eyed him questioningly. "As in, mating to have eggs?"
Goliath nodded. "That mating is always done on the wing; tradition has it that the faster and longer the chase before the male catches his mate, the stronger the egg that's produced six months later, and the better the eventual hatchling." He waited for a moment, wondering if she was going to ask anything about the breeding flight he and Demona had done, to produce Angela's egg. He doubted it, though; Elisa had a jealous streak as wide as his tail (which was fine with him, because he knew his own jealous streak was currently wider than a city street.) When she said nothing, he sighed, "I must confess, I still sometimes wish a mating like that one was for us would produce an egg for the rookery, but I know better. However, there's… what's the phrase… a 'plus side' to that."
"Which would be…?" Elisa asked, though she thought she knew the answer.
He gave her a purely lecherous grin as he told her, "We can have it again and just as grand in another twenty-seven days, instead of another twenty-five years."
She leaned against him as she howled with laughter. "Oh, you're insatiable!"
"Not true," he said with wounded dignity. "Right this minute, I'm very sated. Give me a little while, though, and I'll be ready for more," as he waggled his brow ridges at her.
She playfully swung at him with the sofa pillow, and he dodged it once before catching it and demanding a kiss as its ransom. When they came up for air, though, she wore a serious look instead of a smile as she said, "We still have to talk about how we're going to deal with these overprotective urges of yours. The fact is, I'm neglecting my duties as a police officer right now."
Goliath nodded slowly. "I know. But Elisa, I honestly don't know how to shut off my instincts on this one. I want to be with you always, you know that, but I've learned to set that longing aside on most nights so we can both do our duties. But on nights like these, when your very scent demands I come to you, mate with you and stay with you… I can no more resist that call than I can resist sunrise."
So noseplugs wouldn't work?" she asked half-jokingly.
He shook his head and snorted. "I doubt it. Half the time your scent seems to go straight through my pores to my soul… completely bypassing my brain, or we wouldn't be in this situation. But your fertile period lasts only three nights out of every twenty-seven, or at least, that's the usual pattern I've observed over the past year. Would it be possible for you to arrange your schedule to be off-duty for those three nights?"
"Mmmm… Maybe. I'll have to start swapping nights off with other detectives, since it's not every twenty-eight days like most women…" Her period being regular but one day shorter than the norm had never really bothered Elisa before, particularly since she knew it could be even worse; her kid sister Beth used to complain that she always had to have tampons handy in her purse, because her periods were as irregular as French verbs. But now, for the first time ever, she had a problem with it that needed solving. Maybe if she went on The Pill, like Beth had finally done; that had put her kid sister on a twenty-eight day schedule. Remembering to take those itty-bitty pills every day at the same time would be a royal pain, but since what they actually did was suppress fertility, that might just solve the whole problem. If she didn't, well, smell fertile anymore, then Goliath would probably be able to control himself again. Time to make a doctor's appointment, she concluded. …Tomorrow, she added with a mental sigh, as Goliath's tail slipped around her waist again.
At that same moment, somewhere across town, Jon Castaway made a final note in red ink, then handed the clipboard over to a young man standing next to him, saying, "That should do the trick. Have three copies of the revised script ready for when the auditions start."
"Yessir," the young man said as he looked over the changes Castaway had made in the pages of written material. His eyes were troubled, his voice uncertain.
Castaway cocked an eyebrow at him and inquired, "Is there a problem?"
"Well…" the young man swallowed hard, then screwed up his courage and asked, "Sir, why exactly are we doing this? This… well, sir, this is kind of like a hoax!"
Castaway glared at him for a moment, wanting to backhand the insolent pup into submission, then remembered his manners and the need to keep every ally loyal to the cause, and smiled ruefully. "I can understand why you think that. It's true, neither the newspapers nor the television stations have ever published news about an event quite as horrific as this, happening here in New York. But if it hasn't been advertised in either black and white or in living color, do you really think that it couldn't possibly have happened?" He paused just long enough for the words to register before going on, "And do you believe that it couldn't possibly ever happen?"
"Or do you believe that such a scene hasn't been played out in all its terrifying entirety, in other cities and at other times?" a new voice spoke up; Oliver Grimm, the creator of the Quarryhammers, looked over at them from where he was examining a gargoyle costume. He set the costume down and approached slowly, his voice cold. "I can assure you, young man, that in years past these monsters have done all this and worse. I have seen the remains, I have comforted the widows and orphans… and the parents. For remember, these predators prefer their prey to be small and weak…" He suppressed a smile at how the young man paled at his words, then went on. "What we are doing is not a hoax, but rather… a dramatic reenactment. Surely you've seen those often enough, on shows such as 'America's Most Wanted', have you not?"
"Yeah, I have," the man said slowly. "A dramatic reenactment… Okay." He straightened his spine as he said, "I'll have the revisions made and three copies ready before morning, sirs."
"Good man," Castaway said with an approving smile. The young man all but saluted him as he hurried away and back to his keyboard, and Castaway turned to Grimm and said quietly, "A dramatic reenactment. I'll have to remember that phrase… We may have to pacify similar objections before we're finished with this project."
"You may," Grimm acknowledged. "But once we are finished… We may well see the gargoyles of this city wiped out before Christmas, without our even having to lift another Quarryhammer."
Castaway smiled grimly as he raised his glass of mineral water. "Then here's wishing for a happy New Year."
Sitting on the couch next to Goliath and carefully stitching the small tear in his wing closed for him with a sterilized needle and thread, Elisa remembered something Goliath had said earlier. She asked with idle curiosity, "You said something about my scent starting to affect you… When did you first notice it?"
"Hmmm… Just after Demona and MacBeth stole and reawakened Coldstone. Until then, I'd noticed the change in your scent but it had never before bothered me, though my heart was already thinking of you as far more than just a friend. Then, when we awoke in the park in the remnants of our chains and I found you sleeping beside me, and helped you to your feet… Suddenly, I wanted nothing more than to take you to a secluded area of the park, and mate with you on the spot. And if the others had not surrounded us in the next instant with questions about what had happened, I just might have attempted it too," he admitted wryly.
"No wonder you were so short-tempered that night!" Elisa finally realized with a wry smile, as she dabbed on more aloe vera gel to ease the pain and prevent infection. "I thought you were just torqued over being suckered by the evil soul in Coldstone and captured again."
"Mm-hm." And that time four weeks later, when Elisa had pretended to be a crooked cop in order to entrap Tony Dracon and break up his protection racket… Tony Dracon had come far closer to losing that arm he'd put around Elisa than Goliath wanted to admit, even now. As much as Goliath had tried to deny it back then, convinced Elisa would never have him for a mate and any attempt at courting was doomed from the start, his heart had been roaring that if that Dracon rogue didn't get his paws off his female, there would be blood to pay…
For her part, Elisa was musing on all those weeks on the skiff, which had stretched to several months of real time due to Avalon's time-warping magic. She had noticed that Goliath had gotten very short-tempered for a few nights in a row, not too long after her period had ended (and with it, her own short-tempered spell) but figured at the time that it was just worry over the clan they were trying to return to. She remembered now, the odd looks Angela had given both Elisa and her father for those three nights, and all the excuses she'd come up with to leave them alone together; Elisa had thought she was just trying to avoid getting entangled in Goliath's outbursts of temper. But if she'd been able to scent the change in her human companion as well, and deduced that was the reason for Goliath's behavior, then she must have been trying to give them privacy for mating, and puzzled when they didn't take advantage of it! Elisa found herself blushing furiously in retroactive embarrassment.
Her personal embarrassment was suddenly washed away by another, rather alarming thought: if Goliath had become acclimated to human fertility cycles, what about the rest of the clan? Would they start panting after random ladies as well?
She voiced the thought to Goliath, but he shook his head and said, "I sincerely doubt it. I told you, my heart had already decided you were much more just than a friend to me, by the time you had begun to affect me so." Though he'd probably never tell her, the seeds of their courtship had been sowed on the night Puck had temporarily changed her to a gargoyle. Before that night, she had indeed been just a friend, though the closest human friend he'd ever had, closer than some of his own rookery siblings had been. But from the moment he'd seen her as a gargoyle, a beautiful female gargoyle… That short time of gliding with her, teaching her how to use her wings, had been heavenly. If she had remained in that form instead of being changed back to a human in just a few hours, he probably would have started courting her the very next night. But even after she'd been changed back, he found that he still thought of her as beautiful, in her own human way... He brought his thoughts back to the present again as he finished, "One of them would likely have to commit his heart to a particular human female before his body began to follow suit."
"Well, I think I'm about done with this," Elisa said as she carefully tied the knot and snipped the remainder of the thread off, then critically eyed the stitches she'd made in his wing. "Does it look all right to you?"
He brought the wing edge closer to his face and nodded. "It looks fine. Thank you, my love," he said as he brought her close for a kiss. Then, with a glint in his eyes, he added, "And now that I don't have to worry about distracting or startling you at a critical moment…" Elisa playfully yelped as he pounced on her again.
Hours later, just before dawn, Elisa put her robe on and followed Goliath out to the balcony; he now sported a rough loincloth made out of a bath towel and package twine. "So, you're pretty sure my fertile period will be over by tonight?" she asked as she suppressed a yawn.
"Fairly sure," Goliath rumbled. "If so, I should be, ah, back to normal after I wake up this evening… though it would be wise to air out your apartment today during the day, to aid in dispersing whatever fertility scent still lingers in the air and furnishings."
Elisa nodded, thinking that she'd not only open every window but drag out the fan she used during the summer and hook it up as well. Then she'd spray an entire can's worth of pine-scent air freshener all over the place, saturating every room, and let the wind blow through until she couldn't smell the pine scent any more; that would mean that any scent of her would probably be gone as well. As much as she loved Goliath and enjoyed their lovemaking, she did not want a repeat of last night! As it was, she had the definite feeling that things were going to be awkward between herself and Matt at work that night…
Eight days later, the Halloween decorations that had covered the city were already a faded memory, with most stores having put up paper cutouts of turkeys and pilgrims, and some just skipping right ahead to winter scenes and signs saying "39 shopping days until Christmas!" A package arrived at WVRN in the daily mail, addressed to the manager of the television station by name. Gerald Cummings curiously opened the package to find enclosed a standard VCR tape, and a note in crudely printed block letters that read, "THE POLICE WONT HELP. PLEES SHOW THIS SO JUSTICE WILL BE DONE." The note was signed, but the signature was a virtually illegible scrawl; it could have been anything from Daniel Whozits to David Whatzits. The return address on the package gave no name either, just a post office box number, with a postmark from downtown Manhattan. The manager cocked an eyebrow, but went ahead and stuck the tape in the VCR in his office.
The static cleared to show a pastoral scene, a city park after dark; probably one of the walking paths in Central Park, with a young couple standing on the path directly in front of the camera; the only light came from a lamp post some forty feet away, and with the couple's backs to it, their features were in shadow. A voice off-camera said, "Okay, the little light's on now."
"You're supposed to say 'Rolling'!" the young man in front of the camera said with some annoyance.
"Hey, gimme a break, I ain't no Hollywood pro!" the camera operator protested. When the young woman muttered something about that being obvious, the operator started to become annoyed. "Hey, you want I should just leave it here on the tripod and walk away, you just let me know…"
The couple spent a few seconds hastily placating the operator; then the young man cleared his throat and said self-consciously, "Ladies and gentlemen, we are--"
"I thought you were sending this to your folks," the operator interrupted in a confused tone of voice.
"We are! But this is for posterity, you know?" The young man threw up his hands in disgust. "Oh, just shut up and keep the camera running, okay? All right, where was I?"
"Ladies and Gentlemen," the young woman next to him said helpfully.
"That's my line! Oh, right, that's where I was. Oh, come on, stop laughing!" he complained, because both the camera operator and the young woman were busting up laughing. "C'mon, knock it off, we gotta get this done before it starts raining. All right, so it was funny for a few seconds there. Now come on…"
Suddenly, the laughter and complaining was interrupted… by a guttural growl.
The couple whirled around at the noise, evidently coming from the bushes to one side of the path; the man valiantly tried to maneuver himself between the woman and the possible threat. Bare seconds later the bushes exploded outwards as a brick-red beaked gargoyle and a much larger lavender gargoyle sprang out of the bushes and attacked. "Shit!" the off-camera voice of the operator said, and the picture was momentarily jostled as the tripod was rocked, probably by the operator as he ran away and left it there. But it was still running as the woman shrieked and tried to run as well, and the man with her yelled and swung his fists at his inhuman attackers. In mere seconds, however, both were rapidly overwhelmed and run to ground, still within view of the camera.
The young man's cries of fear became horrid gurgling noises that abruptly stopped, and the large lavender male laughed horribly as he held up a gore-covered hand and licked his fingers. The beaked gargoyle gave a grunt as he slung the unconscious but still breathing woman over his back. The large lavender male grabbed the corpse of the man by an ankle and dragged him behind him, as the gargoyles disappeared into the bushes again. For at least another minute, the scene showed only the blood-covered path. Then the rain began to fall, gently at first but harder by the minute, diluting and washing away the blood on the path as tiny drops spattered the lens. Then, sounding faint as though having been carried to a more distant spot, the woman was heard screaming, "No! Oh God no, please don't, please!" Then she began screaming without words, screaming in agony, as the growling was heard again… And moments later, the tape ended and static filled the screen.
The manager stared at the static-filled screen for long seconds, his eyes wide, then opened a drawer in his desk and grabbed for a file within. Then he backed up the tape, preparing to play it again.
Several minutes later, he hit the intercom button on his desk and summoned his secretary. "Phyllis? Get Collins in my office in the next fifteen minutes." Collins was the programming director for "Night Watch", the station's star attraction for nighttime programming, and this had to be jumped on immediately, before another station scooped them again.
That night, Castaway sat down with Oliver Grimm in the business magnate's ornately furnished study. The large-screen television had just been turned on and the channel changed to WVRN; "Night Watch" was due to start in less than two minutes. "This program should be actually be entertaining, for once," Grimm commented as he poured himself a brandy with a self-satisfied smile.
Castaway already had a brandy in hand, but he was not smiling. "Without a contact in WVRN anymore, we don't know for certain that they'll televise it tonight; they may try to track down the source of the tape first."
"My dear boy, you underestimate the hunger of the media to be first with new information for the public. The station may say something for the record about not being positive of the tape's authenticity, but they'll show it tonight, for fear of being 'scooped' by another news station while they dither about with verification. 'Rumor will run a thousand leagues, while Truth is still tying its shoes.' " With that, Grimm sat back and the two of them sipped their drinks while waiting for the program to start.
After the show's logo and theme music played, Travis Marshall appeared on the screen, sitting behind his desk with a face even grimmer than usual. "Good evening, everyone. I'm Travis Marshall, and tonight I'm here to tell you about a shocking new development in the gargoyle dilemma that's been plaguing New York."
Castaway and Grimm turned to look at each other with wide smiles. Castaway raised his glass high as he proposed a toast: "To the beginning of the end… for the gargoyles!"
"Hear, hear!" Grimm toasted him back, and they sat back to listen as Travis gave a quick recap of gargoyle-related events, from the first unconfirmed reports of the 'mythical' winged monsters in the city to the first clear tape of them, spotted leaving the clock tower after it had been destroyed, and past that to the rise of the Quarrymen, "A group of people that have announced their intention to eradicate the gargoyles."
"Free advertising," Grimm commented with a smile. But the smile turned to a mild frown as Travis then went on about the Quarrymen's exploits that were known to the public, all the appearances they had made in public and all the statuary around the city that had been smashed under their hammers, on the off chance that the statues were actually gargoyles sleeping by day. Up until now, Grimm had thought that Travis Marshall was one of their strongest supporters in the media, though he had come to only one of the Quarryman meetings and had stayed in the back with his cameraman rather than join the throngs who had also listened to Castaways' stirring words and were singing up by the dozen up. But tonight, he made their exploits till now seem like petty vandalism and thuggery…
"And today, a videotape arrived at this studio, addressed to our station manager, accompanied by a note pleading for his aid in seeing that 'justice will be done'. The video contained shockingly graphic footage of a gargoyle attack on a young couple. We're now going to show you a short clip of the footage on that tape," and Travis nodded curtly for it to begin. The scene abruptly shifted to one from the videotape the Quarrymen had made. The clip started with the young woman and camera operator laughing at the young man with them, and mere moments later being attacked by the gargoyles… And stopped abruptly, as the large lavender gargoyle started ripping into the young man on-camera.
The picture shifted back to the studio, with Travis Marshall looking very grim as the frozen scene was displayed on the screen behind him. "Ladies and gentlemen… This tape is a hoax."
Grimm involuntarily cursed, a string of profanity that mixed English expletives with Germanic maledictions. Castaway just stared at the television in silent shock.
Travis went on to explain how the station had been able to tell the difference between the gargoyles on the tape and true gargoyles, the principle difference being that the feet of the gargoyles on camera were far too small. The screen split to show the tape's large lavender gargoyle on one side, and a picture of a true gargoyle crouched on a stone ledge on the other (Goliath perched on the battlements of the castle, photo provided by Xanatos); when seen side by side, the differences in foot size were glaringly obvious. He went on to show a freeze-frame and magnified picture of the beaked gargoyle, squeezing his fist in order to activate the controls for the motorized tail. "The note that accompanied this tape of a staged attack stated 'The police won't help', implying that the police had seen this tape and refused to believe it, but we have verified that the police have never seen this tape. The perpetrators of this hoax obviously intended for this news station to broadcast the tape as footage of an actual attack and demand that the police take action for it, while spreading panic throughout our great city, and inciting more violence and possibly even rioting in the streets. I'm now directing my remarks to the makers of that tape, who I'm sure are out there watching us tonight: This station is dedicated to responsible journalism, telling the public the truth, not a pack of lies! And we will not be manipulated into--"
Grimm never heard the rest of Travis Marshall's little speech, because it was cut off when his television died in an explosive burst of sparks, Castaway having just stood up and hurled the ottoman like a giant overstuffed discus right into the giant screen.
In his own study a few hours later, watching the tape of "Night Watch" Owen had made for him, Xanatos raised his glass of aged brandy high and said cheerfully, "Dear Mr. Castaway: Trick or treat! Love, David Xanatos." It had all happened exactly as he'd planned; the Quarrymen had been unable to resist the idea of using those expensive gargoyle costumes to simulate an attack on innocent people, unknowing that it was a setup from the start. He'd made sure before the first costume was sold that he had documents distributed to the head of every TV station in Manhattan on how to tell the difference between the costumes and the real thing, and promised not only to buy a half-million dollars' worth of advertising time from each station that exposed a gargoyle hoax, but to pay a $1,000 Christmas bonus for every employee of the station that did it first.
Travis then went to a clip of the police commissioner, who had been interviewed just minutes before broadcasting began; Commissioner Jordan promised to track down the makers of that tape, and see them arrested for both attempted fraud and incitement to riot. Sitting in the chair next to her husband, Fox murmured, "Why thank you, Commissioner! David, we'll have to do something nice for that man someday."
"Of course, my dear," Xanatos agreed as he raised his glass in salute to the man. Neither Travis nor the commissioner could name either the Quarrymen or Castaway directly, of course, because they didn't know for sure yet that the tape had come from them, but the implication was definitely there… and in concocting the hoax, the Quarrymen had just shown John Q. Public that they were not entirely trustworthy. And now that a chink in their shining armor had been established, the ever-skeptical average New Yorker was just a little less apt to believe everything they were spouting about 'the gargoyle menace'.
As Travis Marshall finished the feature on the hoax and the station went to a commercial, David and Fox Xanatos turned to each other and raised their glasses high. "A toast, my dear: To the beginning of the end… of the Quarrymen!"