LIFE GOES ON
By Kimberly T.
Once he got home to his apartment, just before dawn on November 2nd, Matt tossed his briefcase onto the coffee table and his trench coat onto the coat rack, missed both goals by at least a foot and didn't bother to pick them up again, just flung himself onto the beat-up old couch in his living room (luckily, he didn't miss that.) He automatically picked up the remote to the TV, then threw it down with a grimace and just stared up at the ceiling. Now was not the time to see the perpetually smiling faces of the "Good Morning America" anchors, not when he felt like ripping into something like a gargoyle on a vengeance trip. But the thought of gargoyles only darkened his mood even further, till he wanted to rip into one himself. Specifically, he wanted to rip Goliath's head off and bowl it down the seventh lane of his uncle's bowling alley.
All night long, ever since Goliath had flown Elisa off to her apartment and left Matt to handle the crooks he'd knocked out, Matt's overactive imagination had been percolating in the back of his skull. He'd managed to stop it and think of other matters for a few hours, but every time he happened to glance up and see her vacant desk, whatever perverse demon of his subconscious that felt like torturing him had immediately sprung up again with images of Elisa and Goliath together. Very together, with Goliath peeling her out of her clothes and himself out of that goddamned loincloth, and… He was lucky he hadn't run into anything while driving the Fairlane over to Elisa's new apartment at dawn, because by then he was so torqued he could hardly see straight. He hadn't taken her keys up to her place, had just locked them in the car and left it there while catching a cab back to where his own car was parked. If Elisa didn't have a spare key in her apartment, too damned bad, because no way could he face her then, not the way he was feeling this morning. He had to admit it to himself at least, or he'd go completely gonzo: he was jealous as Hell.
He had no right to be jealous, and he knew it. Elisa was his partner, not his lover, not even his girlfriend. Being a partner on the police force was no trivial relationship, either; he knew plenty of guys on the force that would swear up and down that their partners meant more to them than their own brothers, heck, sometimes more than their own wives did. You had to be able to trust your partner completely, trust him/her to watch your back in nasty situations, or you were in major trouble. When you were lucky and had that kind of working relationship, that trust usually extended itself to times off duty, too, and it wasn't at all uncommon to find partners being named as godparents at christenings, cosigners on loans, etc. He had no doubt that he had that kind of trusting relationship with Elisa, after nearly two years of being partnered with her. He also had known pretty much right from the start that there was no way they could ever have a romantic relationship as well. Even before he'd met the gargoyles, he'd known that being romantic with a partner on the force was, to use Officer Beltran's words, "Major bad juju, dude." So just why, he asked himself, was he so jealous of Goliath right now? His self couldn't come up with a coherent response, just another burst of jealous rage and misery.
He was brought out of his jealous funk by the ringing of the telephone, and stared at it for a few moments in disbelief. No one ever called him here, except for telemarketers trying to sell him funeral plots and other crapola. He got up to answer it, listened for a few moments, then sighed and said that the school secretary had the wrong number, he wasn't little Julie's father, so he couldn't come and pick her up from school after she'd thrown up all over the bus. More depressed than ever, he threw himself on the couch again. Maybe that was the problem, the fact that had just been driven home by the wrong number a few moments ago; he had nobody else right now. No kid, no wife, not even a steady girlfriend. Heck, not even a date in nearly a year; was that pathetic or what? He used to date pretty steadily, maybe no real steady relationships but he'd always had a few phone numbers he could call for Saturday nights; what had happened to them, to him?
Maybe it had something to do with Elisa after all. He'd been seeing one woman, an exotically beautiful woman at that, nearly every night of the week, even if it was in a work environment. Maybe he'd gotten to subconsciously thinking about Elisa as not just his partner, but as 'his', period. Which was beyond stupid, because he had no doubt that if confronted with that, Elisa would have had no qualms about bouncing his head off the nearest wall, just to prove that she belonged to nobody… except, apparently, Goliath.
This was doing nothing except raising his blood pressure. Matt sighed, flopped from his back to his side on the couch, and reached out to pick his suitcase up off the floor by the coffee table. Time to distract himself again, in the same manner he'd been doing all night: by wading into a series of cases drenched in blood and gore.
After he'd seen the grocery store robbers handed off to the patrolmen who showed up when Goliath and Elisa left, Matt had gone back to the crime scene they had originally set out for, the apartment belonging to the not-so-dearly-departed Hector Ramirez, 'alleged' pimp and drug dealer. Morgan and Jansen, the cops who'd discovered the body, had found another item behind Hector's torn-off arm under the couch: a .45 automatic, equipped with silencer. They had also noticed two bullet holes in the living room wall, a few feet above eye level and spaced about two feet apart. After the body and severed arm had been photographed and removed by the coroner's office, Matt had carefully dug the bullets out of the wall and sent them and the gun in for analysis. A little while before dawn, Forensics confirmed that the two bullets had been fired from that same gun, and the fingerprints on the gun had belonged to Hector Ramirez. Apparently, whoever or whatever Hector had been fighting, he'd managed to squeeze off a couple rounds before he'd been disarmed… literally.
Matt had returned to the station and started writing his reports up when another cop had walked by on his way back from the coffee machine, and commented off-handedly, "So, 'V.C.'s back?"
"Huh?" Startled, Matt had looked up from his monitor and said, "What'd you say, Corsomo?"
A twenty-year veteran on the force, Corsomo had said, " 'V.C.' You know, short for Vigilante Critter…?" Then he'd lightly tapped himself on the head and said, "That's right, you weren't here back then. But I'm surprised you haven't heard about him, even if the last case we're sure about was over six years ago. When these gargoyle critters first started tagging crooks back in '94, a few of us wondered if they weren't related to 'V.C.' somehow."
Matt pulled out a chair for Corsomo and gestured for him to sit down. "Sounds like you know something I need to know. What happened over six years ago?"
Corsomo shrugged, and sat down in the chair. "You'll have to call the other precincts to get all the case files, but we got a couple of them that I know about, stretching back a few years farther than that. See, back in… what year? Right, 1987; I remember, because the first case popped up right after my daughter's first slumber party." Stirring and sipping his coffee, Corsomo had told him that between 1987 and 1990, several dead bodies had popped up here and there in Manhattan, most of them looking like they'd been mauled by a huge wild animal. Throats slashed out by claws instead of a knife, bodies broken and mangled by somebody with strength far beyond that of the human norm… And with few exceptions, the bodies were those of known criminals; the few "John Doe" victims who were still unidentified usually were found in suspicious circumstances, with weapons still in their grasp or covered with their fingerprints. "The papers started calling him the Subway Slasher after a short string of cases that all happened on the subway; we even got a couple of witnesses on those, who said the guy or creature had arrived just in time to save them from becoming victims of the would-be muggers and rapists that the Slasher took out. But then the Slasher left the subways and began leaving presents for the coroner in other places…"
After Corsomo had finished relating what he knew and gone back to his desk, Matt had gone to the file room and started digging into the Unsolved cases for those years. Corsomo had been right, their precinct alone had three cases on file that seemed to match the profile of this violent vigilante. If Corsomo was right, the other Manhattan precincts together held fourteen more unsolved cases that seemed to be the work of this one man/monster, and a Long Island precinct had one more, though that one had lived through the attack… if you can call being paralyzed from the waist down and stuck in a mental institution for the rest of your life living. Seventeen dead men and one ruined for life; it was amazing that Matt hadn't heard of this guy before... but he supposed that the choice of victims had something to do with it. As shameful as it was to admit, tracking down and catching a man/monster who killed only gangsters, muggers and professional hitmen was not very high on the average precinct's priority list, not when there were so many other people killing innocents for their money, for 'turf', or sometimes just for fun.
Matt had checked out the three files his precinct had, to take home with him; it wasn't often that he took work home, but today he'd needed something to take his mind off Elisa. Now, after opening the briefcase and spreading out the contents of the files, looking at the blown-up photos and read the coroner's reports, he understood why the perpetrator had been nicknamed V.C., Vigilante Creature. Case No. 967284, a "John Doe", had been found outside a tenement with an unregistered .357 Magnum lying next to his hand, a hunting knife still in its boot sheath, a garrote in his back pocket… and his neck crushed like an empty soda can. The killer had left clawed indentations there, too… From a five-fingered hand. (Matt was silently thankful for that reasonably clear impression of a pinky finger; he absolutely did not want to consider the possibility of a strange gargoyle running around town and committing murders back in the late 80's, even if they might actually have been done in the defense of innocents.)
He read through the file on Case No. 967093, one of the subway killings that had caused the media to initially dub the killer "The Subway Slasher." Victim this time was identified as Eddie Langdon, who had been arrested twice previously for assault and armed robbery. Evidently, he still hadn't learned his lesson, for the body was found with a sharpened screwdriver in his hand… and his throat ripped apart by three parallel slashes. This case had a witness, though a reluctant one; the woman who had been in the subway car at the time of the killing. At first she'd claimed that the car was too dark to see anything about the killer, but then the detective grilling her had pointed out that she had already described perfectly the sharpened screwdriver in Eddie's hand as he'd threatened her, and the predatory look in his eyes. Finally, she'd admitted that she'd seen the killer, but he'd been wearing a voluminous cloak that covered him from head to toe; all she'd really seen of him were his hands. Her "terrible savior", as she'd melodramatically referred to him, had furry and sharply clawed paws instead of hands…
The earliest cases didn't have quite the same M.O. as the later ones, but Matt could see how they'd all been grouped together. And the John Doe case had very nearly the same M.O. as Hector Ramirez' killer, close enough that Matt was willing to lay odds that the cases were related. Why was this killer choosing criminals as his victims? Why had he wreaked havoc for nearly three years, then nothing for over six years, only to resurface again now? And not just who was he, but what was he? Had that Dr. Sevarius who'd mutated Derek, Maggie and Claw been working on a mutate formula back in the 80's?
Wait a moment… Elisa had said there were four mutates. So far, he'd met only three, and he didn't want to seriously consider them as suspects in the most recent murder until he'd eliminated all other possibilities. What had happened to the fourth mutate, the one who called himself Fang? Elisa had said that the last she'd seen of him, he'd been carried out of the Labyrinth on a stretcher; after Claw had beaten the stuffing out of him for threatening his wife-to-be, Dana, Fang had apparently opted to take the mutate cure. But had he actually been turned back into a human? Could he have changed his mind and escaped instead, and taken out Ramirez to even an old score?
Who had been on the bed? Had an old girlfriend of Fang's or VC's been held captive in that bedroom, chained to the bedposts and being subjected to physical and mental abuse until her spirit was broken, to become a member of Ramirez' 'stable' of whores? Bluestone knew from conversations with Vice that some pimps had particularly nasty ways of acquiring/creating new prostitutes to make money for them. Addicting them to drugs that their pimps would supply only upon receipt of their 'take' was only one method… If Ramirez had been in the process of doing that to an innocent girl, Bluestone knew he'd have a hard time blaming anyone, even the Pope, for killing the pimp with his or her bare hands.
Matt finally sighed, put the folders back together and closed the briefcase. The next step, as far as he could see, would be to talk to Xanatos and find out more about Fang. And about Dr. Sevarius, and what the mad scientist had been up to back in the 80's… After he got a few hours of sleep.
"No rest for the weary," David Xanatos quietly grumbled to himself after smothering another yawn, while Owen smoothly guided the crowded limousine to the depths of the underground parking garage. Once they'd come to their destination, he, Owen and four more people got out and walked up to a seemingly blank wall.
He'd finally assembled a crew of job placement specialists, people who were already skilled at finding legitimate and reasonably-well-paying jobs for others, and who were fair and open-minded individuals willing to sign the most unusual non-disclosure agreement in decades. (Not one word to anybody, anywhere or anytime, about where the Labyrinth was located or how it could be accessed, or about the gargoyles and mutates living there, or they'd find themselves massively in debt to Xanatos Enterprises for the rest of their natural lives.) Today he and Owen were personally taking the four members of the staff down to the Labyrinth, to introduce them to the mutates and to the people who'd be hoping for jobs. He'd been up since five o'clock that morning dealing with problems from the overseas offices (more corporate espionage in Japan, and a suspicious warehouse fire in Bahrain), and would probably be working through dinner again tonight. He supposed that he could have just delegated the task to Owen entirely, but that just didn't feel right. This was part of the penance he'd set for himself, after Alex was born and he'd realized that all the dirty dealing he'd done to get to the top of the heap may have made him a stellar success in the business world, but a lousy role model for his own son.
If he wanted Alexander to look at him with respect in his eyes someday, he had to start making right a lot of wrongs he'd done on the way to the top, starting with the mutates. He'd indirectly caused their mutation, therefore it was his job to see them cured, including the child on the way (please, God, let the kid be healthy enough to survive!). Fang had been ready and willing to take the cure on the spot, and at last report was upstate going through the final stages of it, and ready to undergo training afterwards for a new life as an auto mechanic; he'd shown some aptitude for it, and it was better than returning to his life as a bus driver (better for his passengers, that is.) But since the other three refused to be cured until the baby-to-be could be made human as well, Xanatos felt it was also his responsibility to ensure they had a decent home to live in while waiting for that happy day. And that included helping all the people they looked after, in their home under the streets of Manhattan; particularly since he had the uneasy feeling that some of his more cutthroat business dealings in the past had landed a fair number of innocent people in homeless shelters or out on the street. (Which was why he'd instructed the people on his employment staff to, when they were helping the job-seekers put resumes together, give higher priority to people who used to work for Xanatos Enterprises, or for corporations that he'd bought out.)
He reached up and hit the hidden release for this door to the Labyrinth, and it slowly slid aside with a horrendous groan of tired gears, to reveal three figures standing in the dim lighting beyond. Talon stood dead-center, his arms crossed and his wings furled, silent and darkly foreboding. Claw stood a little behind and to his left in the same stance, his striped fur gleaming in the light from the garage. To his right stood, instead of Maggie as Xanatos had expected, Claw's wife Dana; she also stood tall with her arms folded, and pure challenge in her stance and glare.
Near-universal gasps from the job placement people; Owen had shown them pictures from the security files, but 8x10" glossies were never the same as real life. Nearly five whole seconds of silence that screamed with tension. Then the staff chief nervously cleared his throat and stepped forward, holding a hand out (and it only shook a little bit) as he stammered, "I-I'm Randall Quinn, head of the employment staff Mr. Xanatos has hired to help out down here…?"
Talon smiled, careful to keep from showing his fangs, as he stepped forward and held out his hand. "Pleased to meet you. I'm Derek Maza, but the people down here call me Talon."
The two men shook hands, and then Talon genially turned to introduce the others. "This is Claw; I guess you'd say he's my lieutenant down here. And this is his wife, Dana." The two he'd just named smiled and waved genially to the others, as Talon playfully confided, "And I warn you now, you'd better be nice to Claw, or you'll have her to answer to! Dana's deaf and Claw's mute, so I hope one of you knows sign language…"
"I know ASL," the other man on the staff announced as he signed a quick greeting to Claw and Dana, who smiled even wider as they signed back to him. That had been the deciding factor in Xanatos choosing him over another applicant with equal qualifications, as he was well aware. "I'm Barry Manilow—and before you ask, no relation to the singer, and I can't stand his music anyway—but I'm pleased to meet you, too!"
The ice now thoroughly broken by Barry's crack, the other two members of the staff were introduced, and afterwards the group of people headed down the corridor together, Barry already in silently animated conversation with Claw and Dana. Xanatos took a moment to quietly ask Talon, "How's Maggie doing?" He worried that her 'morning sickness' was hitting her more heavily than usual, for her to not be there at the introductions.
"She's okay, just keeping an eye on Anne Marsden's little girl for her; Anne's one of our job-seekers," Talon responded quietly back. Then he said even more quietly, "And I wanted these folks to get used to me and Claw first, and come to see us as people before they see her; Maggie hates being seen as a 'monster'." Xanatos nodded in understanding even as he winced at the term. Like it or not, "monster" was exactly the word most people would use to describe the mutates, just as they used it to describe gargoyles.
A short while later, they were all in the chamber that the Labyrinth residents had decided to make an office for the employment staff, getting ready to start interviewing people and determine what sort of job would be best suited for them. A line of people were already waiting outside, cleaned up and dressed up as best they could; the people who most wanted to find employment and a return to dignity and normalcy in their lives. Margaret Grenville and Titus Jones, the other two members of the employment staff, had given the line-up a quick once-over as they came in, and were cautiously optimistic about finding jobs for them all. "But we're definitely going to have to do some shopping, for clothing suitable for the real interviews with prospective employers," Titus said, as he checked the Men's Wearhouse charge card he'd pulled out of his briefcase. "What's the credit limit for this?"
"Don't worry about that. You can't overcharge it, unless you decide to buy tuxes for half of Manhattan," Xanatos told him in an aside, before they opened the door to usher the first applicants inside.
Xanatos made himself comfortable in a chair in the corner, deciding that he'd just see how the first few interviews went before leaving his crew to run the show. Maybe a visit to the mini-clinic, too, while he was down here, to see how those two nurses they'd brought down last week were doing and what supplies they needed to restock already. He knew he'd really lucked out on finding two such able-bodied, knowledgeable and willing nurses so quickly. Amanda Beach and Julian Martin were fresh out of nursing school and still brimming with idealism and a burning desire to make a difference in the world; if he hadn't hired them first, they would probably have joined the Peace Corps. But when they'd been told that not only would they get to make a difference in the lives of people in need, and learn more about two newly discovered species (the mutates were different enough to count), but would get paid three times normal salary for it… He'd almost had to jump to one side to avoid being run over as they charged in and got to work.
Which reminded him, he still had to line up a doctor to handle what the nurses wouldn't have the training to handle; a general practitioner heavy in obstetrics, with a strong interest in veterinary sciences. At least the only hard part about that would be finding the right man or woman for the job; enticing him or her away from whatever hospital currently employed them would probably be a snap. Offer to pay off all the college loans at once and throw in living accommodations anywhere in Manhattan, and they'd be begging for the opportunity to work for him. After growing up as a dirt-poor son of a fisherman, David reflected smugly that it was really rather nice to be able to just throw money at problems until they went away…
His attention was brought back to the conversation going on in front of him; Margaret Grenville was with her first client. "So, Mrs. Marsden, what sort of work do you like to do?" Margaret was asking.
"I like working with children," Mrs. Marsden said hesitantly. Leaf-green eyes in a face pale and drawn with tension under mousy brown hair, the look of a woman who was close to being beaten down by Life but hadn't given up just yet; Xanatos supposed this was the Anne Marsden that Talon had mentioned earlier. "I worked in a day-care center, before…" She looked down at the Kleenex in her lap, being nervously shredded to pieces.
"…Before…?" Margaret prompted gently.
"Before I came down here." Mrs. Marsden still wouldn't meet Margaret's eyes.
"Mrs. Marsden… May I call you Anne?" When Anne agreed, Margaret continued softly, "Anne, do you think you could tell me exactly how that came to be, that you came to live down here? We want to find everybody jobs that they can keep, so we can satisfy both you and your prospective employer. And sometimes, how a person ended up jobless and homeless has some bearing on how well they will be able to manage a new job."
"You mean, you need to know ahead of time if I'm an alcoholic or drug addict, or just plain crazy," Anne said with a bitter chuckle. Margaret looked rueful at the harsh but accurate words, but before she could respond, Anne continued, "No, I don't drink much at all, and I've never done drugs, but I do have this bad habit of losing things… My husband, my apartment, my best friend, my car, my job…!" as tears began to trickle down her cheeks.
"Oh, dear… Here," Margaret said as she proffered more tissues. After Anne had dried her tears and composed herself, Margaret said gently, "Start at the beginning."
"The beginning?" Anne said hesitantly, "Well, I suppose that would have been… The Lost Nights."
"A.K.A. New York's Second-Greatest Unsolved Mystery," Margaret said with a nod of recognition and sympathy. Unnoticed by either of them, over in the corner, both David Xanatos and Owen Burnett went very still.
"Up until then," Anne continued, "My husband Phil and I were doing okay; he was a mechanic, working for the local Les Schwab, while I worked in a daycare center and kept an eye on our little girl, Bethany. We were married five years, and we were happy, and I know he'd never have run away from us, no matter what anyone else says. And I just know that blue-skinned vampire-lady, or whatever she was, on the television had something to do with his disappearing!"
"The one who was saying that mumbo-jumbo over and over on every channel?" Margaret nodded in remembrance. "A lot of people are saying that she actually cast a magic spell, to turn everybody to statues for the night. I might think that too, if I actually believed in magic…"
Anne nodded. "We were watching a Cosby Show rerun when she came on instead. And the moment she did, Bethany started crying; she wouldn't stop until after we shut the TV off. But she was fussy all afternoon after that, and Phil was awfully edgy too; he said he just had the feeling that something bad was going to happen. We didn't own any weapons except the steak knives in the kitchen, but just before nightfall, Phil got so worried and nervous that he called up a friend of his down the block and asked if he could borrow his rifle for the night. Then he went out, and told me to lock the door and not open it for anybody until he came back and knocked our special recognition knock. Then… he told me to avoid the windows, too, but I went over there anyway and peeked through the blinds as he left the building. I saw him there, heading down the street, just as the sun set… And then suddenly it was morning! And Phil was gone… I called his buddy, but Phil had never made it to his house… No one ever saw him again.
"The police put out a Missing Persons bulletin for him, like they did for all the other people who'd disappeared that night, but they never found a trace of him or anyone else, and said the whole thing was just a mystery that would probably never be solved. That one policewoman said he was probably dead, but the life insurance company said without a body or a death certificate, they weren't going to pay on his insurance policy. And without Phil… I didn't make enough at the daycare center to pay the rent on our apartment, so after two months Bethany and I had to move in with a friend of mine, Cassie Roberts.
"That worked out pretty well, since Cassie was Bethany's godmother, and she and I had been best friends since high school; we were always borrowing each other's clothes, and stuff. She let me borrow her car when my own needed work done on it, and vice versa. And last summer, hers was in the shop for a new brake job, and she was borrowing my car to get some ice cream—we'd run out, but Cassie always loved ice cream, she just could not get enough of that Double Chocolate Crunch—when the Big Sleep happened."
Margaret nodded again. "The Greatest Unsolved Mystery. That voice in everyone's heads, telling us all to sleep, and everyone just fell asleep on the spot, dropped right in their tracks…"
"Even if they were behind the wheel," Anne said with a hard swallow. "I was at home with Bethany, and just fell asleep on the couch with the TV on, so I just thought that I'd nodded off and had a weird dream or something. But then Cassie didn't come back… and at three o'clock that morning, the police knocked on our door, to tell me she was dead. She'd fallen asleep while driving to the store, and gotten caught in a six-car pileup…" After a few moments to wipe her tears away and compose herself again, Anne continued, "They told me she'd probably died almost instantly, so at least she didn't feel any pain. But when I called the daycare center that morning, to let them know I wouldn't be in to work, they said a truck whose driver had fallen asleep at the wheel had driven right into the daycare center! Nobody had been hurt, since it was after hours, but the truck utterly wrecked two of the rooms! They said the center would be closed for at least a month for repairs, and I was laid off until then… And the rent was due in only a week, and the landlord…"
"Never mind, dear, I think I can guess the rest," Margaret said as she reached across the desk to rest a comforting hand on Anne's trembling hands. Preoccupied by past losses, grief and comforting, neither of them noticed that Xanatos had swiftly but silently gotten up and left the room, and Owen had just as silently gone after him. "So someone told you about this place?"
Anne sniffed a couple times, then said, "Maggie found me. Well, actually, Bethany found her; we were walking down to a homeless shelter when Bethany got away from me and ran into an alley we were walking past, saying 'Kitty!' and just ran behind a Dumpster…" Anne laughed shakily. "And when I caught up to her, I saw she was right; she'd found a really big kitty…! I was terrified at first, but Bethany just snuggled up to her. Then the 'big kitty' spoke to me, begging me not to be afraid, that she'd never hurt a child… We started talking, and I found out that Maggie was almost as scared of me, of my screaming and calling the police or something, as I was of her. I told her why we were out there, and she told me about her home… So we ended up coming down here with Maggie that night, and we've been here ever since."
Margaret nodded slowly. "Well, Anne, I think after all that you've gone through, you've got nowhere to go but up. And I personally promise I'll find you the perfect job, to get you started back up again…"
Owen found Xanatos in a darkened room nearby, sitting on the floor against the wall and staring bleakly into nothingness, uncaring of the dust and debris soiling his $2,000 Armani suit. "Sir?" When no response came, he stepped inside the room and repeated softly, "Sir?"
"I… Just give me a minute, Owen. Just give me a few minutes." Owen nodded and retreated two steps to the doorway, then sat down in the entranceway himself, heedless of his own impeccable attire. After a few minutes, Xanatos said softly, "There are some things I'll never be able to make right, aren't there?"
"That woman. Her husband. Her best friend, and her job and home and everything else… I did that to her. I can get her another job, but I'll never be able to bring her husband or best friend back…"
Owen was silent for a mere moment before replying, "Sir, if I may speak frankly… You did not do all that to her, and it strikes me as the height of hubris and foolishness to presume you did."
Xanatos lifted his head to glare at him. "Where the Hell have you been for the last two years! I caused the Lost Nights, when I gave Demona access to Pack Media studios and arranged that broadcast! She may have been the one to pull the trigger and blow Philip Marsden's statue to rubble, like she did to so many people that night, but she wouldn't have been able to do that if I hadn't given her the means to cast that spell over the entire city! And you can't deny the Big Sleep was my fault, because you were awake for that one, when we were fighting Oberon to save Alexander!"
"Sir, if I may speak bluntly, Demona duped you. She deceived us both into believing that the spell she would cast was a longevity spell, that would take only one minute from the lifespan of each person affected by it and grant that minute to the spell's caster and chosen recipients. If she had kept her word, the spell would have done virtually no harm to anyone in the city, while benefiting both you and her enormously. If you go into a business agreement with another businessman who not only breaks the contract but uses your resources to commit a crime against other people, would you be legally at fault?"
David laughed bitterly. "Maybe not, but I'd still be sued by the victims for the damages."
Owen almost rolled his eyes at the reminder of the 'deep pockets theory' that civil lawyers were so fond of, that was bogging down the U.S. legal system with seemingly ridiculous lawsuits. "I spoke of common law, sir, not the excesses of which we have seen so many recently." Then he gave a small sigh and went on, "And to blame yourself for Oberon's actions is supremely foolish." His pale countenance seemed to subtly darken, with pain and rage simmering far beneath the surface as he continued, "Avalon's ruler does as he will, and to blame yourself for his actions as he sought to steal Alexander away would be akin to taking blame for successfully defending yourself against a common thug seeking to rob you, who then fired wildly into a crowd of innocents in a fit of childish rage at being denied his prey. He is the one who broke his word, who hurt us all, and someday…"
Xanatos looked at Owen questioningly and a little uneasily at the ominous tone to those last few words, but Owen said nothing more, and reverted completely to his usual cool and emotionless exterior. After a few more moments, Xanatos got up and brushed himself off as he said, "All right, I see your point. But I'm still going to see that she gets top priority in finding a decent job, and a new home for herself and her daughter if they want it."
Owen inclined his head slightly as he also got up and brushed himself off. "As you wish, sir."
Rather than go back to the interviews in progress, they decided to pay a visit to the mini-clinic instead. On the way there, they ran into Maggie, who was carrying a crying little girl in her arms and saying soothingly, "There, there, we'll go see the nurses and they'll make it all better… Oh, Mr. Xanatos!" as she looked up and saw them.
"Hello, Maggie," Xanatos said as he looked at the girl in her arms, a little blonde cherub with one hand wrapped in a paper towel. "What happened, is she okay?"
"Bethany got into the kitchen garbage can while I was making lunch for us both, and cut her finger on a sharp can lid," Maggie said ruefully. "I swear, you turn your back for just one second, and… It's not a bad cut, but I figured the nurses should see it and make sure there are no metal slivers left under her skin."
"Good thinking," Xanatos nodded, while reaching out to ruffle the little girl's hair fondly. "She's right, sweetie, the nurses will make it all better… Hm?" Because even as he touched her, the little girl had stopped crying, and was instead staring fixedly past him. He turned around to see what she was looking at, but only saw Owen.
Owen was not renowned for making a good first impression with children; that cold and emotionless exterior his mortal persona had achieved tended to make them uneasy (as well as some adults). Xanatos was about to make introductions for him and reassure the child that Owen was harmless, when she pointed right at Owen and said decisively, "Gween!"
"Gween?" Xanatos blinked in surprise.
"She means green, I think. No, honey, Mr. Burnett is wearing a blue suit. Blue," Maggie corrected her gently.
"Gween!" the little girl insisted stubbornly. "Big gween!"
Until that moment, Owen had looked at the child with seeming disinterest, as befitted the persona of Owen Burnett, even though Puck was actually quite fond of children. But now he stiffened, his eyes going wide for just a moment, before he closed them tightly. Then he reopened them, to stare just as fixedly at the child as she was staring at him. After a few moments he asked tensely, "Whose child is this?"
The tension in his voice got through to Maggie, who backed warily away from him as she said, "Bethany is Anne Marsden's little girl. Why are you asking, what's going on?" Xanatos looked at his aide questioningly, as well.
After a moment more, Owen relaxed and said, "Nothing is going on; it was an error on my part. For a moment, I thought the girl was the child of an acquaintance of mine, a child who'd gone missing several years ago, presumed kidnapped. That child was, for some reason, very fond of… of the green ties I used to wear… But of course, this little girl is too young to be her, too young by several years. And her hair is just a shade too light," as he reached out to ruffle it gently. "My apologies for disturbing you," as he turned away. "Sir, shall we return to the interviewing?"
That wasn't where they had been headed just then, but Xanatos took the hint and walked away with him, while Maggie went into the clinic with Bethany. After they were out of even a mutate's range of hearing, Xanatos said quietly, "Now, are you going to tell me what that was all about?" He knew his aide well enough to know that he'd just told a pack of lies to Maggie, but had no idea why.
Instead of answering directly, Owen asked, "Sir, have you considered hiring a nanny for Alexander?"
"Huh!" Xanatos stared at him. "A nanny for… Who are you, and what have you done with my personal aide?"
"I am quite serious, sir. Since Mrs. Marsden has previous experience in working with children, I believe we should hire her as a nanny for Alexander."
"For my son the mage-in-training? A kid who likes to fly around the nursery and throw tantrums in Technicolor? Excuse me, but I thought we'd agreed to keep his powers and Fey blood a secret from the populace at large…"
"And we will, sir. I am quite sure that Mrs. Marsden will be able to keep our secret… As, until now, she has managed to keep one of her own. Bethany is partially Fey. And she is already beginning to manifest her Fey heritage, in the form of True Sight…"
Xanatos stopped dead in his tracks to stare at him, as Owen continued, "She saw my aura, sir. Puck's aura, which is normally buried deep within this mortal flesh, beyond even a full-blooded Fey's casual glance. And when I used True Sight on her, I saw an aura nearly as bright as Alexander's. The child has enormous potential for magic, though whether active or passive I cannot yet say."
"Well, I'll be…" Xanatos stared thoughtfully back towards the nursery, stroking his bearded chin, before turning back towards the office where the interviews were being conducted. "Time for another look at Mrs. Marsden, hm?"
"Indeed." They went back to the office, to find Mrs. Marsden just standing up and shaking hands with Mrs. Grenville, having just finished her interview. Owen looked hard at her for a few seconds, then told Xanatos in a very quiet whisper, "A very faint trace… Not strong enough to manifest any power. The father must have been Fey or partly Fey as well, for Bethany to manifest so much power at so young an age."
Xanatos mused quietly as they watched her walk out the door, "Suppose she didn't know he was Fey? Fox and her father had no clue about Anastasia Renard being Titania, until the night Alexander was born."
"That is entirely possible, sir… In which case, she will be entirely unprepared for her daughter's powers manifesting uncontrolled. Little Bethany may find herself causing accidents beyond any normal child's scope, and being chastised for telling improbable tales…"
"Or in worst-case scenario, find herself committed to an insane asylum in later years, since burning at the stake is out of fashion now," Xanatos finished grimly. "Can you train her in magic use while training Alexander?"
"To some extant, yes. So long as she is present when I am giving Alexander his lessons."
"Well… Let's talk to Ms. Grenville, then get up to a level my cell phone will work at so I can call Fox, before talking to Mrs. Marsden. I'm not going to bring a live-in nanny and her daughter home with me without giving my wife a heads-up first…"
Several hours later, Matt Bluestone arrived at the Aerie Building and asked to see Mr. Xanatos on an urgent matter, concerning police business. Since, like Detective Elisa Maza, he had been given an unlimited access card, he was given access to the express elevator and was soon rocketing up towards the castle they and the gargoyles resided in.
When he stepped out of the elevator, he was greeted by Xanatos himself, who had a rather distracted air about him. "Nice to see you again, detective," he said as he opened a door nearby and looked inside. "What brings you up here before sunset?"
"I need information concerning a case I'm working on. …Is something the matter?" he asked as he began following Xanatos through the hall.
"Afraid so. We're hiring a live-in nanny for Alexander, and the nanny's little girl disappeared the moment we turned our backs on her; guess she thought we wanted to play hide-and-seek. Want to help me look for her?"
"A nanny for your son?" Matt said incredulously as he nonetheless began opening doors and checking behind furniture. "Is she going to be okay with the gargoyles, not to mention Puck?"
"The gargoyles won't be a problem, since she came from the Labyrinth, and her daughter liked to play with the clones. As for Puck, well, that shouldn't be a problem either; I'll explain why after we find little Bethany. Come out, come out, wherever you are!" Xanatos called futilely into another empty room. After being answered only by his own echo, he closed the door again, muttering, "We really should start locking the rooms we're not using."
"What about the security cameras?" as Bluestone jerked a thumb over his shoulder, at the video camera tucked away in a corner of the hall.
"Owen's already in the security room. She's not visible on any of the monitors right now, so he's checking all the tapes for the last twenty minutes. Bethany, come on ou-out!" After loudly calling out the last, he muttered, "So I can fit you for a radio-transmitter collar…"
"Bethany!" Matt called out as he checked another room on the other side of the hall. When the hall ended in a T intersection, he and Xanatos split up, him going to the left and Xanatos to the right. A few minutes later, he opened the door to another room, apparently used as a walk-in linen closet, and called out, "Bethany?" He thought he heard quiet movement, so repeated, "Bethany? Hide-and-seek's over; you won! Will you come out now?"
More rustling, followed by a little blonde head peeking out from behind a stack of towels on the bottom shelf. He squatted down to see her better and said with a smile, "Hi, Bethany; my name's Matt. That was a really good hiding place! You won the hide-and-seek, so will you come with me now? Your mother's getting worried."
Little Bethany immediately scrambled out from behind the towels, and ran right into his arms. Matt was surprised, but automatically hugged her close… And was even more surprised when Bethany shouted joyfully as she snuggled into his arms, "Daddy!"
TO BE CONTINUED!