LIFE GOES ON
Meanwhile, Back in New York…
Part 8: Weird Luck
By Kimberly T. (email; kimbertow at yahoo etc.)
Standard Disclaimers and acknowledgments apply; I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.
(Author's note: This takes place nearly three weeks after the Manhattan Clan left for their 'vacation' in New Orleans; at roughly the same time as the final events of "Mating Games 9: Bad Moves". Many thanks to Tribun for providing German translations when asked!)
Heinrich the German gargoyle glided across 5th Avenue with a frown on his face. He'd been searching for the gargoyles that called this American city home, for nearly three weeks now. Nearly three weeks of cruising back and forth across this island of Manhattan, and he had yet to see a single wing or tail anywhere.
He'd found other evidence here and there that they existed; stone shards and gravel on a rooftop over here, where one of them had spent the day; distinctive talon marks on a wall over there, where one of them had climbed up to get height for gliding. But he still hadn't met any of the gargoyles themselves, and he was getting very worried.
The night before his ship had pulled into port, the Quarrymen had engaged in battle with a group of beings with wings and tails. Heinrich's friends in the local police force, officers James Carter and John Davis, had told him about that, and added that opinion had been divided on whether the other combatants had been gargoyles, or humans wearing gargoyle costumes; the Quarrymen swore they'd been real gargoyles, but scraps of costume had been found at the scene of battle.
Three days later, a body had been discovered on a rooftop; one of a human wearing a gargoyle costume. The damage done to the costume and to the man himself had matched what had been found at the scene of battle, and the common consensus now was that the Quarrymen had indeed fought humans in costume—criminals in costume, that is, since the dead man had been part of an organized crime ring—and no real gargoyles had been involved at all.
When Davis had told him the news that Friday night, Heinrich had been very glad indeed; he'd been seriously worried that he'd arrived in New York just one night too late, and the last of the local clan had fought the Quarrymen and died of their wounds afterwards. But if they hadn't been involved, then they were probably just very sensibly staying quiet and out of sight, just as Heinrich and his family had always done back in Dresden and Berlin. They were still out there somewhere, likely where a human wouldn't be able to find them, but hopefully a very determined fellow gargoyle would.
But where were they? It was now common knowledge that they had been living in that castle-in-the-sky, as guests of the billionaire David Xanatos, but weren't there any longer. Three hours after he'd met his new friends in the police force, Davis had returned to the clocktower to tell Heinrich about the news report he'd just seen on the television in the precinct below; an interview with the billionaire himself. Herr Xanatos had admitted that the gargoyles had indeed been living in the castle, but they'd left it for good after the Quarrymen had started harassing the castle in their helicopters. He'd even let the news crew look through every part of the castle, but no sign of them had been found. And Xanatos firmly maintained that he had no idea where the gargoyles were living now; he hadn't asked, and they hadn't told. Though he had mentioned their fondness for sea air.
A fondness for sea air might mean that they had chosen a new home near the docks, but Heinrich had searched every mile of the island's coastline and still hadn't found them. He had indeed found evidence that they had been there; there were a few warehouse walls that had pockmarks from use by gargoyles for climbing. But he still hadn't seen any of the gargoyles themselves.
What was so frustrating was that while he'd been searching, other people had seen them! Every evening either Davis or Carter came up to share the most recent reports with him, and nearly every night someone somewhere in the city reported seeing gargoyles out perched on rooftops or gliding around, as bold as brass. After Davis had come up with a pair of walkie-talkies and given one of them to Heinrich, the gargoyle had taken to carrying it along in hopes that the officers would be able to call him and direct him to a reported sighting before they flew out of sight.
Only three nights after receiving the walkie-talkie, his friends had called him to let him know of a sighting in progress; a huge purple gargoyle and a slightly smaller blue-green gargoyle had been spotted gliding above 55th Street! Heinrich had been only three blocks away from that sighting, and had hurried over there, but by the time he'd arrived there had been no gargoyles in sight; the only thing that had looked even slightly out of place had been a dark blue van that had a peculiar-looking pair of antennas mounted atop it.
And two Tuesdays ago, he'd awoken to find Carter standing near him with a newspaper in hand; one of the articles in the newspaper was about the Quarrymen's latest loss. According to the Quarrymen's own Public Relations officer, the night before, two van teams of Quarrymen had reported finding evidence of recent gargoyle activity, and were going to set up an ambush. But they hadn't reported in since ten o'clock that night, and no one had seen the men themselves or their vans since then.
Heinrich knew the part of Manhattan the article mentioned; that area contained a warehouse with one wall in particular that had been covered with talon marks, a well-used trail leading up to its roof. He'd been by there just two nights before the Quarrymen had gone missing, and not seen anyone, but after hearing the news he hurried back… to find the marks on the wall had been covered over by two sheets of plywood nailed into place. He hadn't dared approach too closely to inspect the work that had been done, because two homeless people had been sitting on a blanket right across the street and in clear view of that wall, but he was positive that someone had covered their tracks.
In some ways that was a relief, because no one would have hidden those tracks if there had been no reason to hide them—no one trying to stay hidden. More evidence that the gargoyles were in hiding! But where were they hiding? Over the next few nights he'd stealthily broken into not only that warehouse but every building with a city block radius, but found nothing.
He worried and he fretted over not finding them, but he refused to give up hope. Somewhere in this city, there had to be more gargoyles…
Somewhere in this city, there had to be something that would take her mind off of gargoyles for a while.
Elisa Maza sat in her precinct staring into space, absently drumming her pencil against her desktop, wishing for a nice juicy, high-profile homicide. Okay, not really wishing for someone to get killed, but still wanting a distraction. She'd been back in Manhattan and away from her husband for less than a week, and already she was missing him terribly.
And she was wondering about the rest of the clan, too. In particular she was wondering and trying not to worry about how well Brooklyn's tail had healed, after he'd nearly gotten it severed by a gator bite. After calling New Orleans last night and finding out he'd been attacked by a gator and was in surgery, she'd called again two hours later to learn that he'd come through the surgery okay and was conscious, but they wouldn't know how well his tail had mended until after a day's stone sleep. She'd called again at sunset, but the clan's main line had been busy and Goliath hadn't answered the cell phone she'd left inside their cottage. It was still four hours before her regular 3:00 a.m. calling time, when Goliath would be waiting in the cottage for her call; she'd just have to wait until then to find out how Brooklyn was doing.
She reflexively glanced towards the broom closet, then closed her eyes and shook her head in disgust. Cripes, how sappy could she get? She'd just caught herself thinking about going up to the clocktower again, just for nostalgia's sake; to revisit where the clan used to live!
It was a bad idea, for a variety of reasons. And two of those reasons were sitting in the same room with her; the rookies Davis and Carter. A few nights ago in a particularly sentimental moment, she'd started heading for the broom closet, but just as she'd opened the door those two boys had jumped up and ran for her like eager puppies wanting to go walkies. They'd been all excited about her going up there, wanting to go with her "to look for clues about the gargoyles' diet and habits, and what their new habitat might resemble."
Instead of pulling down the access ladder, she'd lied; told them that she was only looking for a broom to sweep up some dust bunnies she'd noticed under her desk. And she'd pointed out that the 'crime scene' was now hopelessly contaminated, first by the exploding missile that had wrecked the place and then by the construction surveyors that had gone up to assess the damage and costs of repairs, before the union had gone on strike. She assured them that Matt Bluestone had gone up there personally after he'd been promoted to the head of the Gargoyles Task Force, and the precinct's top detective hadn't found anything worth noting, so what was the point of going up there again?
In truth, she just didn't want to go up there accompanied by anyone; particularly by two cops who clearly thought of the gargoyles as dangerous beasts, instead of people. If the sight of the ruins themselves didn't wreck her pleasant memories of how it had been when the clan had been there, their attitudes and remarks as they pored over the wrecked and abandoned furnishings surely would.
Her reverie was interrupted by Officer Wilson, who gave her a sympathetic grimace as he dropped a two-inch-high stack of papers on her desk. "More sightings," he said simply before walking away.
Elisa tried not to groan out loud. Xanatos' idea was really working too well…
The day after the clan had left for their 'vacation', Xanatos had outfitted a trio of vans in different colors with Xanatos Enterprises' most advanced hologram-generating equipment and projectors. And that night, while the clan had been sitting down to a feast in New Orleans, holograms of Goliath, Brooklyn, Hudson, Broadway and Angela in flight had begun appearing in the air over various Manhattan streets. The images for the holograms had been taken from security footage at the castle, from various times when the clan had been coming in or gliding away or just stretching their wings after dinner.
The whole idea was to make it appear that the clan was still in town, if not at the castle anymore. And it was working like a champ, as far as the Quarrymen were concerned. According to the mole Xanatos had planted in the organization (Elisa had no idea who he or she was, and wasn't going to ask), the Quarrymen had been going nuts driving all over town, chasing reports that citizens had called in to their new Q-hotline but arriving to find no gargoyles in the area.
The problem was that citizen weren't just calling the Quarrymen to report gargoyle sightings. The police were getting swamped with calls, some of them coming in from as far away as Queens. The 911 operators for NYC had all been instructed to route those calls to the 23rd Precinct, where the Gargoyles Task Force was headquartered. And they'd been getting so many, Captain Chavez had petitioned the bean-counters to hire another police secretary just for the GTF. And they'd probably get one, too… in another year or two. In the meantime, guess who had to do all the sorting and categorizing of the sightings?
Usually Elisa did her fair share, but this time she just divided the stack into two piles and split them up among the rookies. "Activity at time of sighting, area of city and number sighted," she said wearily, even though they surely knew the routine by heart; Matt had been giving them those same sorting criteria while she'd been "in quarantine," down in New Orleans. There were so many that sightings now that only the ones that reported real crimes being committed by gargoyles were actually investigated anymore—and so far, all the ones that had been genuine crimes had been committed by costume-wearing human criminals. Too bad Xanatos hadn't built some kind of auto-destruct device into those costumes, so they'd have all disintegrated or something right after Halloween.
Both rookies nodded and returned to their desks with the papers, but the top sheet was wafted off Carter's stack by a stray breeze and drifted to the floor. Elisa sighed and picked it up for him, automatically glancing it over before handing it back. Then she frowned, and took another look. A gray-and-red one again? That was the third time she'd read a reported sighting of a male gargoyle with gray skin and a red mane.
The first time she'd dismissed it as just another 'canary case'. Police occasionally got calls from people reporting crimes that hadn't really happened, sometimes even giving false confessions to crimes that had actually happened; saying anything that would get someone in authority to pay attention to them. Since gargoyles were in vogue lately, loads of 'canaries' had been singing about seeing gargoyles doing everything from gliding right through their open windows to battling hosts of angels in the night sky.
The first time she'd read a report about a gray male with a red mane gliding across 32nd Street, it had been right after reading a report about a trio of gargoyles perched on top of the Metropolitan Opera House, serenading passersby with passages from Faust. Compared to that, somebody just gliding along minding his own business was hardly worth noticing.
The second time she'd read that description, it had been right after reading a sighting about a brick-red gargoyle flying barrel rolls down 55th. Which had been a hologram of Brooklyn, taken from last Halloween night; the clan had been in pretty good spirits after a night of partying with the Xanatos family, and Elisa had heard that they'd challenged each other to stunt-gliding feats on the way back to the castle before dawn. (Lexington had won the competition with what Xanatos had described as a double Immelmann with an extra twist, but the footage of that one hadn't turned out well.) Elisa had assumed that call had been a case of somebody with poor night vision or color-blindness reporting another hologram.
But this third sighting… the caller had described a gray male gargoyle with a red mane coming in for a landing on the roof of a building across the street, then unslinging a satchel, eating a sandwich of some sort, and drinking from a water bottle before taking off again.
Holograms didn't eat or drink. The clones hadn't ventured outside the Labyrinth since the night of Brentwood's death. And canaries usually described their gargoyles a little more luridly, doing something more outrageous than just having a midnight snack.
Elisa called the rookies over to her desk. "New criteria, guys," she said crisply. "Go back through the last two weeks of sightings of solo gargoyles, and sort by color. And bring me every sighting of a gargoyle described as having gray skin and a red mane."
Oh, crud, Officer James Carter thought to himself as he heard what Detective Maza wanted. Out of all the gargoyles that people were reporting, why'd she have to pick on poor Heinrich?
They'd already had one close call with the detective, when they'd thought she'd been about to go up to the clocktower. The rookies had done that themselves a few weeks ago; that was how they'd discovered Heinrich in the first place.
They had talked about such a possibility beforehand, and come up with a plan for if it happened; both rookies would go upstairs with whoever was investigating, making lots of noise all the way up, to give Heinrich plenty of time to clear out if he was up there at the time. And at the first sight of anything that might possibly be construed as a clue, James would call the senior officer's attention to it and insist on examining it carefully, while John hurried ahead and covered up any real evidence that Heinrich might have accidentally left out, like his journal or photos from home or whatever.
Luckily, that time had been a false alarm; the detective had only been going for a broom, not for more clues about gargoyles. But now… something in that report she was holding had made her want to focus on gargoyles that had Heinrich's coloring. What was on that report, anyway?
It took a few moments of walking back to his desk, but James finally came up with an excuse to go back for a peek. He walked back and asked, "Um, pardon me, Detective, but I've run out of paper clips for the reports. Do you have any extra?" And while she rummaged in her desk, he leaned over and got a good look at the 'activity' section of the report.
Well, the good news was that it was just somebody eating a sandwich; no crime being committed. So whatever had gotten the detective so focused on gray gargoyles with red hair all of a sudden, it hadn't been some crook in a costume again. But they still had to make sure she didn't discover anything that might lead her to actually slapping cuffs on Heinrich, who wasn't here to hurt anyone; who would help the whole city by taking all the gargoyles back to Germany with him, if only he could actually catch up with them.
After getting paper clips from the detective, he went back to his desk, which was right next to John Davis's desk. And he whispered to his buddy, "We give her exactly one sighting each, okay? And as far from 'home plate' as possible. Then we shred the rest later."
"Let's make it two sightings each, but two out of four being something too freaky to believe," John whispered back. "I'm going to change the hair color on that 'gargoyle walking through walls' sighting from last Saturday."
"Yeah, that's even better!" James started searching through the stacks for another bizarre gargoyle sighting. What night had they gotten that one about a big black gargoyle sitting down to dinner in a private room at Tavern on the Green?