A QUIET NIGHT, A BUSY DAY
By Kimberly T.
(Author's note: Part of this story, one of Brooklyn's memories, refers to a flashback scene in Christine Morgan's story "Confession," which is now near-universally accepted by fans as canon "unseen footage" from the episode "Temptation." The story also makes reference to two characters from "TGS: Dark Ages,")
Brooklyn decided that the second-biggest difference between conducting 'stakeouts' for criminals and lying in wait for animal prey was the noise. New York, 'the city that never sleeps', was certainly never silent; even perched where he was, Brooklyn could hear car horns, engines slowing and accelerating, televisions blaring idiotic commercials (Brooklyn was absolutely certain they turned up the volume at the TV station just for those), dogs barking, and people shouting in anger and ecstasy and just to make noise. And this was supposedly, by Elisa's standards anyway, a 'quiet night'! Back in the 'old days', when Castle Wyvern was still in Scotland, there had been times when hunting when the only thing he had heard was his own breathing, and the sounds of his chosen prey.
Back in the 'old days', when Hudson had retired from leading the clan and become an elder and teacher, he had worked hard to drum the basics of tracking and hunting prey into the heads of Brooklyn's rookery generation. None of the Trio had been star pupils, but they had gotten the basics down decently enough that, when it was their turn to hunt for the clan instead of patrol the castle grounds, they came home with food more often than not. Of the three, Brooklyn was the best at pouncing and bringing down the prey, but Broadway was best at actually tracking it; they used to tease him that it was because his nose could smell food from two leagues away. But it was Lexington who was, surprisingly, the best at all of them at patiently waiting for large and potentially dangerous prey to lower its guard, or make some careless mistake that the smaller gargoyle could take advantage of.
Long after the blue-green and big-bellied rookery brother would give up and go off to find easier prey, and the red-skinned and beaked rookery brother would succumb to an occasionally-too-audible case of the fidgets, the green web-winged rookery brother would still be crouched with eyes gleaming, waiting…waiting…waiting sometimes hours for just the right moment before striking the perfect blow to bring down a mighty aurochs bull three times his size. Even if it started raining or snowing, he would still wait patiently; it had utterly amazed his rookery brothers sometimes, particularly when considering that, at most times, this brother was the most impatient of them all at learning and seeing new things. Whenever great events came to the castle, he could be found scurrying back and forth, from battlements to courtyards to stables and back again, anxious to see and learn everything possible. He had been the first of them to learn to read, and the most eager to help their peach-colored older sister with the spiraling horns when she needed an extra pair of hands in her experiments…
Brooklyn sighed, shook his head to dispel thoughts of the old clan and reminded himself that here and now was a lot more important to survival than memories of a dead clan that still hurt, even over two years—no, over a thousand years—since their slaughter. And here and now, the biggest difference between hunting and stakeouts was that they weren't out to kill their prey anymore, but to keep it from preying on other humans. This drug dealer that they were staking out was, according to Elisa, a very slippery character, who somehow had managed to elude the last three 'tails' the police had put on him. But they were all betting that he'd have a much harder time escaping a gargoyle in flight… that is, assuming he'd stir from his den tonight.
As he sat there in the rain, staring down at the back entrance to the brownstone the drug dealer lived in, Brooklyn's mind once again began wandering away from his duty. He always scolded himself severely when he caught himself at it; a second-in-command, of all gargoyles, should know better! But he'd been out here over four hours without this human vermin ever stirring from his hole, and nobody could keep his thoughts focused on just one thing for all that time. And now his mind wandered back to the last time he'd had to wait and keep an eye on somebody: the nights he'd taken his turn at guarding Demona.
When they'd first captured Demona, and agreed to take turns in guarding her cell in the Labyrinth, he had secretly dreaded the prospect. Ever since that time she had used him to put Goliath under a spell, he had instantly flown into a fighting fury and a frenzy of action whenever he'd seen that blue witch, almost desperate for battle, desperate to silence her forever and keep her from ever tainting his dreams again. Then he'd been faced with the dreaded prospect of, one night in every six for the rest of their lives, just sitting there and watching her. And listening to her.
And Demona, damn her eyes, had known just why he was dreading it, and the very first night he'd had to guard her, had started the torment. She had taunted him with memories of their past encounters, particularly of that time right after they had awoken in this new life; reminded him of how she had used him to enchant Goliath. Oh Dragon, how she had used him! Seduced him first with words, then with her body… and all of it only to get him to bring Goliath and the Grimorum to Cloisters. Her taunting reminders had been open at first, with her sensuously swaying, cruelly beckoning… Then Fang, in the cell next door, had started hooting for her to "Shake it, honey! Yeah, give us a show! Somebody gimme some ones!" Demona had abruptly gone rigid and backed away, while glaring murderously at Fang, and thereafter refrained from taunting while he was awake. It was the only time Brooklyn had ever wanted to thank the mutate for being crude.
But on those occasions when Fang fell asleep before sunrise, Demona would start in again. Sometimes she'd just idly speculate in a sensuous and cruel whisper as to what the clan would say, what Goliath would think of his new second-in-command, if they found out what he and she had done together. But more often she'd casually undress, saying her clothing needed airing out, then casually do some limbering up exercises, swaying back and forth, then casually lie back on the bed, and then her tail would casually wind between her legs… Ohhh, what she did with that tail! He would clench his teeth and grind his beak against whimpering as she worked it in and out of herself, but be utterly unable to avoid staring at it, at her, unable to avoid hearing her long-drawn-out hiss of satisfaction. And he couldn't shut his ears against her whispers that he could be right where that tail was, if he just opened that cell door and joined her…
He'd never succumbed to her spell, never opened the door. But there were plenty of nights when he'd had to douse his loincloth with the pitcher of ice-water the Labyrinth dwellers kept handy for the guards' use, in order to get the swelling to subside. Once even that hadn't worked, and he'd had to hold the pitcher in front of him when Claw had come to relieve him of his guard duty; then he'd run off, babbling about having it refilled for the mutate, even though he'd known that Claw had probably seen what he was trying to hide. And instead of going to the main tunnels, he'd dashed into the first abandoned chamber he found, to strip off his sopping-wet loincloth and give himself desperately needed relief. He'd sobbed aloud as he'd spent his seed on the floor, relief clashing with intense self-disgust and loathing. How could he face his clan, after being so tainted by her? He'd spent that day below in that chamber, staring bleakly at nothingness.
When he'd awoken that night, after a day of dreams that left him feeling like he'd gone swimming in a sewer, he'd found an old brown grocery sack, empty and folded over, right in front of him so he couldn't miss seeing his name written on it. Somebody had written a note for him; perhaps Claw had stepped away from his post for a moment. The other side of the bag said simply, Don't feel bad. She does it to all of us, night and day. TOTAL BITCH.
He'd never had the courage to find out whether it had been Claw who actually wrote the note, let alone thank him. And he didn't even know if it was true or not; he'd never noticed anyone else coming back to the castle with a wet loincloth. But after that, he'd had no problem guarding her. And just before she'd escaped with Thailog, he'd had his one moment of triumph. She'd started doing it again, but just as she began really getting into it, he'd just yawned wide, then asked her if she was going to think of anything original; her routine was getting a bit stale. She'd bolted off the bed, eyes glowing red and shrieking, "STALE!" Then she'd proceeded, while Fang was blinking awake and then staring goggle-eyed at her naked form, to come up with several highly original ways to kill Brooklyn. He'd listened to it all with a grin, and even waved bye-bye to her when he'd been relieved for the day, while she was still screaming insults at him. Talon had stared at them both, then grinned and tossed off a salute as he'd left.
Total bitch; yes, in his opinion, that fit Demona exactly. Thank the Dragon that she and her daughter couldn't be more opposite if they'd tried! Angela was so sweet, so honest, so… so perfectly wonderful. She was also sitting on the rooftop across from him, keeping an eye on the brownstone's other exit. So near and yet so far…
They'd conversed from time to time in the last four hours, discussing what Elisa had told them about their prey and what little they had observed so far tonight. But he knew better than to glide over to her perch and start a casual conversation with her, let alone try to seriously court her. Angela took patrolling and crimefighting very seriously, and would cut him off with a sharp reminder of duty if he tried to divert her to more pleasurable pursuits. She'd already done that to him once, when they'd gone on a patrol together just before the Hunters had come to town.
He'd been both hurt and ashamed of himself at her flat rebuke, and convinced that it meant she had absolutely no interest in him for a mate, until two weeks ago; then he'd found out from an overheard conversation that she'd actually done the same thing to Broadway once! It hadn't been him, but the circumstances she had objected to… so maybe there was still a chance for him after all. But they were usually on separate patrol rotations, and therefore had different rest times at the castle; they had only a few minutes together after sunset and before sunrise, and trying to get her alone for courting then would be obvious as hell, and probably backfire on him. But tonight, Broadway and Goliath would relieve them on the stakeout soon, and then they'd have the rest of the night to themselves. The rain had stopped a few minutes ago, and the clouds were clearing overhead, leaving the sky looking clean and new. Perhaps he could persuade her to go for a glide over the park with him, to that secluded waterfall he'd noted before. The huge oak tree there hadn't lost all its leaves yet, so it would probably be fairly dry under there, dry and quiet…
He reached up and back to wring the water out of his mane, noting that Angela was doing the same now that the rain had ceased for the night. Reaching up and back like that did interesting things to her already impressive bust line, but he absolutely refused to gawk like a hatchling at first sight of the moon. He had to admit, one thing withstanding Demona's torments had done for him was to give him much better self-control; except for that one raging hard-on he'd had upon awakening three weeks ago (Dragon, how embarrassing! But he'd gotten away before anyone could see it, and Goliath had decided to go easy on him when he came back after taking care of it), he'd been Mr. Cool for months now. A mature male who took matters of the heart very seriously, rather than a hormone-crazed idiot who couldn't think beyond getting some tail; he was quite sure Angela would prefer a serious suitor.
After squeezing what felt like a bucket's worth of water out of his mane, he glanced over his shoulder again, towards the castle. This time he saw the silhouettes of two gargoyles against the half-moon, still tiny and far away but coming closer. Their relief was coming at last! He spared a quick grin before turning back to the stakeout, determined that Goliath would not catch him stargazing like a hatchling, but focusing on the task at hand like a hunter and warrior.
A few minutes later, he turned his head at the near-silent rush of air enough to cordially acknowledge Goliath, coming in to land near his perch. "Hello, Goliath. He hasn't stirred so far."
"Hrmmm." Goliath walked up to the roof's edge and looked thoughtfully down at the entrance. "Has he had visitors?"
"Three so far, though none of them matched the descriptions of known contacts Elisa gave to us." In an utterly professional manner, Brooklyn recited descriptions of their faces, general build and clothing; model, color and license plate numbers of their vehicles; even what scraps of conversation they had overheard from their perches.
Goliath nodded approvingly. "Excellent observations. Give that information to Lexington for e-mailing to Elisa when you return to the castle." Brooklyn nodded as he vacated his perch so Goliath could move onto it, and as he did so, the clan leader laid a hand on his shoulder and smiled again. "You've done quite well, Brooklyn. I pride myself on having made the right choice for my second-in-command."
Brooklyn couldn't keep himself from grinning from ear to ear. Praise like that from Goliath was rare indeed! He also couldn't help glancing over to the other roof to see if Angela had overheard.
Unfortunately, she was listening to Broadway instead. Broadway had arrived with his arms full of snacks, which surprised them not at all, but he was evidently telling Angela about something special he'd left warming in the oven just for her. "And I taped that movie you wanted to see, too; the tape's on top of the VCR. And so is that book you were looking for; Owen brought it up just after you left. Hope you have a nice time!" as he squeezed her hand.
"Broadway, you are so sweet!" Angela said with a smile, as she squeezed his hand back and gazed into his eyes.
Brooklyn's shoulders drooped again, and he silently sighed. So much for his own plans for the night... Maybe he'd see if Lex wanted to go hang out with him somewhere instead.
Back at the castle, Alexander had finally gone to sleep barely half an hour ago, after fussing over his new teeth coming in for nearly half the night. At least tonight it hadn't taken an entire team of gargoyle nannies to soothe him, just faithful Bronx, with Lexington occasionally stepping in. Sitting at his computer now, Lexington grinned again at the memory of poor Bronx's longsuffering expression as he'd resignedly hung his head into the cradle and let Alexander chew on his large fan-shaped ears instead of a standard teething ring. (No doubt about it, that kid had carnivorous tastes.) Once he'd gone to sleep and they'd crept silently out of the nursery, Bronx had dunked his entire head in his oversized water dish to soothe his poor ears, before going over to Hudson's chair and nosing the elder while grunting insistently. "Glutton for punishment, aren't you, boy?" Hudson had snorted, but after he'd finished his show he'd gone with Bronx up to the battlements for a flight to the Labyrinth.
Sitting in front of his state-of-the-art computer setup, Lexington's fingers flew across the keyboard as he grinned from ear to ear, responding to an off-color joke 'Bugjuice' had just made with a truly horrendous pun that should leave his buddy howling at his monitor screen. He loved chat rooms; it was so cool to be able to 'talk' with people just like he was one of them, and nobody caring what he looked like. In a sense, he really was one of them; there were times when he felt closer to people like 'Bugjuice' and 'RiffRaff' and 'LadyHawke' than he did to his own clan, most of whom were not exactly thrilled with new technology. Brooklyn thought it was okay, at least, but the rest of them were almost technophobes.
But it was a whole new world to be explored! Given what he knew about Angela's reasons for leaving Avalon, he'd have thought she'd be thrilled by the idea, but she preferred sticking her nose into a book to surfing the Net any night of the week, and could care less about hacking and creating totally killer programs. It was a darned shame, too, her being so incredibly pretty. Idly, he wondered if 'LadyHawke' was pretty, or at least considered pretty for a human; he was pretty sure that at least that one online buddy was a female. Not that they were ever going to swap pictures! But still, he wondered a little.
Then Brooklyn came in, looking a little down, and Lex asked over his shoulder, "How'd the stakeout go?"
"Basically a dud. But I got some descriptions of contacts we need to let Elisa know about." Brooklyn recited a series of descriptions, including cars, license plates and scraps of conversation overheard, while Lexington acted as secretary, typing it all into a file he'd later send to Elisa.
Just as Brooklyn finished his report, Angela came in with a platter of brownies and a big smile. "Would anyone else like some? Broadway made them for me, but there are more here than I could eat and still be able to glide!"
"Sure," Lex said with a grin as he snagged one off the platter and took a big bite. "Hey, these taste different! …But it's a good different!"
"Maybe he baked something… special into them," Brooklyn suggested with a grin. Lexington immediately began weaving and swaying on his chair and crossing his eyes, before breaking down into sniggers. Angela just looked confused; she hadn't been part of the clan back when they'd seen that memorable and extremely funny 'Barney Miller' rerun.
Hudson landed on the docks with a grunt and a heavy thump, and set Bronx down on his paws. "Humph! Ye're putting on weight, boy; best to lay off those fancy table scraps and stick to good red meat!" But Bronx ignored his good-natured scolding and made a beeline for the stack of crates nearby, which disguised an entrance to the Labyrinth. The watchbeast began whining impatiently and scratching at the largest of the graffiti-spattered crates, the one that was actually a doorway to the hidden world below.
Hudson chuckled again as he walked over and reached for the hidden catch, then paused. Where was it? Everything had gone blurry… Why couldn't he see...
No! This was not happening! He just had a bit of dust in his eye, that's all... He blinked furiously for a few seconds, then glared at the wall in front of him again. And there was the hidden catch, right in front of him; he triggered it, and the door swung open for him. Bronx scampered inside and he followed him in, shutting the door behind him, and within ten steps had determinedly put the incident out of his mind. He had plenty of other things to think about.
They'd had some difficulty and awkward moments after the double mating ceremony—no, humans called it a wedding—when leaving the Labyrinth; Bronx had tried to herd Delilah out with them, unsubtly shouldering her towards the exit. As Hudson had explained with a ruddy bronze blush on his features, a watchbeast's primary role in the clan was to watch over eggs and hatchlings. Now that Delilah was discovered to be 'egg-heavy', as far as Bronx was concerned his duty was to keep an eye on her until she delivered that egg, and her duty was to be where he could keep an eye on her, namely up at the castle.
There was no way they could bring Delilah to the castle without bringing her 'brothers' along, the other clones. Xanatos was more than willing to provide a home for them as well, once he'd learned of their existence. He felt somewhat of a responsibility for them, since he had created Thailog who had in turn created them. But the shameful truth was that, although they could talk to each other now without automatically coming to blows, neither the clones nor the 'originals' were really comfortable in each others' presence. In the end, it had been decided that the clones would stay in the Labyrinth, including Delilah, and they persuaded Bronx to let her be by promising to bring him down for frequent visits. "I'll be bringing him down meself, lass," Hudson had promised Delilah. "As yer time draws near, ye'll be wanting an elder to advise ye, anyway." Then he'd frowned and admitted, "Properly, ye should have a female elder with ye, but we dinna have any in either clan."
"While I may not have wings or a tail, I'm certainly a female and an elder," the human named Ruth had pointed out dryly. "And I've witnessed the births of many creatures, human and otherwise. I think between us, we can manage to help her through it." Hudson had wryly agreed, not that they had much choice in the matter.
Now as they emerged in the central chamber, they were greeted by Ramone, the human who had sung at the recent wedding. "Hey, big boy," Ramone said as he hesitantly reached out a hand to pet Bronx. "Not gonna eat anybody tonight, are you?"
"Not so long as they don't get between him and his dinner, or between him and Delilah," Hudson said wryly.
"No problem. Hey, are there any more critters like him around? I could've used a dog this big and mean-looking back when I still had an apartment; no burglar would dare come near it at night!"
"Nay, none but him in this city," Hudson said with a sigh. They'd had over a dozen watchbeasts back at Wyvern in Scotland, all either striding the battlements with the gargoyles or down in the rookery, gamboling about with the hatchlings and watching over the eggs, and now poor Bronx was the only one… Except for Boudicca, on Avalon. He really needed to talk to Goliath about sending someone to fetch her here, for at least the breeding season next year. And he supposed he should ask Goliath if he knew of any other clans that had watchbeasts, as well; if there were, there might yet be hope for the watchbeast race.
As they passed the kitchens on their way to the clones' chambers, they met Talon and Father Sullivan just coming out. Father Sullivan was smiling benignly at the entire world, but Talon looked to be ill at ease as he said, "It's not that I don't appreciate your efforts, Father, but I-- Hey, Hudson! Come to see 'the kids' again?"
Hudson worked to suppress a knowing grin at the almost desperately enthusiastic way Talon greeted him; likely the priest had brought up some subject the leader of the Labyrinth clan was uncomfortable with, and he was seizing on the first opportunity to change the subject to anything else. Hudson recalled a few times when Prince Malcolm had done the same thing with him, to escape uncomfortable conversations with the castle's resident priest. "Aye, that we have," he said amiably. "Are they in their rooms?"
"I think they're still out hunting. Uh, I've been meaning to ask you, is Delilah going to need anything different in her diet now? We don't exactly have a manual on dealing with pregnant gargoyles."
"Egg-heavy," Hudson corrected, and he combed his talons through his beard as he thought about the breeding seasons he'd seen in his time. "She should be having more meat in her diet, but that's likely already being taken care of by her brothers. And cow's milk; egg-heavy females are often very fond of that." He smiled momentarily at a memory of one of his rookery brothers, attempting to milk a cow for his beloved mate's breakfast. (The cow had objected rather strenuously to being handled by an amateur with taloned hands, and his brother had ended up with barely a cup of milk for his efforts, and a foot and tail-tip sorely in need of stone sleep.) "Beyond that, well, if she has a craving for anything she'll likely let you know about it."
Bronx had been snuffling around their feet as they spoke, and now looked up and whined at Hudson; he'd caught Delilah's scent. "Ah, go on with ye," Hudson said with an indulgent grin and a wave. "Go find her, and a rat or two for yerself while ye're at it." Bronx barked before bounding away down the corridor, on the scent and ready to hunt.
Hudson may not have completely mastered the subtleties of reading the feline faces of the mutates, but Talon's body language was coming through loud and clear; he was trying hard to think of a good subject to keep Hudson talking, so he could avoid returning to whatever he and Father Sullivan were talking about. Hudson decided to have mercy and picked a surefire subject for conversation. "So, how is Maggie doing tonight? That 'morning sickness' still plaguing her?"
There was no mistaking the gratitude in Talon's eyes. "Yeah, but not as bad in the last few days, since her parents went back to Ohio. I think just the stress of having them around and staring at her was making it worse, especially when they found out about the baby." Now he scowled. "Damn near everyone down here is happy for us, but those two stare at her like she's the Horror from Planet X! Oh, they didn't say anything awful, but they never said anything good, either… I swear, if they weren't her family, I'd have tossed them out into the street."
"Mayhap ye should have," Hudson said with a frown. "A family that doesn't accept one of their own when she's changed, through no fault of her own, doesn't deserve to call themselves 'family' anymore. And among my kind, disturbing an egg-heavy, er, pregnant female is no small offense; not when she's undertaking the most sacred duty of all."
Father Sullivan almost literally perked up his ears at Hudson's use of the word 'sacred.' "Indeed she is! I quite agree with you on that score, Hudson, but I would be delighted to have further discussion with you on other aspects of gargoyle culture, and how they might differ from, shall we say, the typical Manhattanite's way of living. In the past two weeks I've come to know the gargoyles down here fairly well, but I'm told they were raised entirely ignorant of most of their cultural heritage."
"Now, that's an understatement," Hudson said with a deeper frown. "The blackguard that created them told us that all he'd taught them was to 'obey Thailog!' If he wasn't dead now, and beyond banishing, he'd have had his wings shredded for that alone." Then he considered rather uneasily, "Although to be fair, he had little idea of his heritage either, as he was created the same way." He sighed. " 'Tis an unpleasant business all around." Now he himself was seeking a change of subject as he asked, "Be Claw and Dana down here tonight? Goliath has been thinking about teaching the clan some form of their finger-talk; there are times on patrols when silent speech would serve us well."
"No, they're still on their honeymoon, wherever that is," as Talon turned to look questioningly at Father Sullivan, who presumably knew more of Dana's secretive past than any of the Labyrinth dwellers did. "The note they left didn't say where they were going, just that they'd be back by tomorrow night."
"Then I'm sure they will be," was all Father Sullivan would say with a benign smile. "But I myself am quite conversant in sign language; several members of my congregation are deaf or hearing impaired, and I conduct one of the Sunday services in sign for them. Perhaps we could come to an agreement of sorts? I would be happy to teach your clan sign language, if you would be willing to share more of your culture and history with me. I have so many questions to ask…"
Down at the precinct, reconstruction and refurbishing after the explosions that had destroyed the clocktower had gone far enough that everyone had their desks back again. After booking her robbery suspect, Elisa sat down at her desk for the inevitable paperwork, eyeing with distaste the pile already awaiting her attention. Paperwork, the bane of her existence; if she ever found out who invented it, she'd tell Puck to wiggle his nose or whatever and find the Phoenix Gate again, just so she could go back in time and tell that jerk what a nightmare he was going to be responsible for.
Just to delay the inevitable for a few moments longer, she turned on her computer and checked her e-mail. Ah, some new stuff from 'Braveheart', Lexington's current online alias. She took a quick look around before printing out over two pages of data, everything the clan had observed from their stakeout of Fast Freddie's brownstone that night.
It still amazed her sometimes, how much information the gargoyles could remember if they were told to remember something, whereas the average rookie these days seemed to have about a five-minute memory, sometimes not retaining valuable information even long enough to write it down. Goliath told her it was because, back in the 'old days' before the massacre, the gargoyles of Wyvern had to rely entirely on their memories for passing on information; less than a third of the clan had known how to read and write, and they rarely had anything to write on anyway.
She scanned over the information, and thought she recognized the description of one of Fast Freddie's visitors; a former 'mule' for one of Tony Dracon's dealers. Well, well! Too bad none of this information would be admissible in court, but 'Braveheart' could never stand in the witness box and testify about how he'd learned all this. Still, it would give the guys in Vice something to work with, to maybe get some information that would stand up in court. She whistled, and when Matt looked up she passed the sheets over to him and said quietly, "Take a look at this, will you? It's what our friends saw tonight while keeping an eye on Fast Freddie."
Matt accepted the sheets and said back just as quietly, "You want me to 'sanitize' it for you?"
"Yeah, you'd better, after the last 'error' you caught." There were times when the gargoyles simply forgot that the average human couldn't see or smell or hear as well as they did, and the last report they'd sent her had data on it that could only have been reported legitimately by a talking member of the K-9 unit. And she was so used to them that she'd just accepted it without blinking, and would have passed it on to Vice intact if Matt hadn't seen it first. He'd removed that line and fixed a couple others that sounded gargoyle-ish, then teased her that she was hanging around 'the guys' so much she was starting to turn into one of them, and any night now she'd start sprouting wings and shedding gravel at sunset. Not hardly! But she might be starting to think like them…
Matt fiddled with his pen for a few moments, his mind clearly elsewhere; then he said abruptly, "Do you know if our friends have heard from… Arthur yet?"
Elisa hid a smile, remembering how Matt had been absolutely enthralled last week, when he and she had sat down with the clan to hear King Arthur's translation of Merlin's scrolls. Evidently, having a legend come to life right in front of his eyes had been even more exciting than learning of the existence of gargoyles. "Not that I've heard. But our friends' benefactor gave him and Griff some equipment when they left just for getting in touch with us again, so I imagine we'll hear from them eventually."
In addition to supplying them with a private plane for returning to England and a credit card for Arthur's own use as needed, Xanatos had supplied King Arthur and Griff with a series of prepaid international calling cards, a laptop and modem for hooking up to any phone, and detailed written instructions for how to use the modern technology to contact the clan whenever they pleased. The cynical portion of Elisa's mind thought that there was a reason for Xanatos' seeming altruism; if Arthur and Griff found Merlin, still alive after all these centuries, Xanatos had another opportunity to find a way to become immortal. And wasn't that an unsettling thought…
"I'm going for more coffee. 'Freshen yours?" Matt asked courteously as he pointed to her half-full cup. Grateful for the distraction, Elisa smiled brilliantly at him as she nodded. He blinked at her in surprise for the smile, but happily went for more coffee.
Half an hour later, Elisa sighed as she dropped her pen on the desk, logged off her computer and shoved her chair back, complaining, "Whoever said computers would speed things up never met a city bureaucrat, or tried to file a report with this system! And 'paperless economy', my butt," as she gestured at the new stack of printouts and forms that had been dropped on her desk while she'd been working on the first stack. "I really hate paperwork."
"Tell me something I don't know," Matt snorted without looking up from his desk. "Sometimes I'd swear you'd rather stand in the middle of a crossfire than sit at that desk for more than fifteen minutes."
Elisa was about to protest, but decided he might just be a little too close to the truth. Instead, she retorted, "Just for that, pal, it's your turn to go for dinner tonight. And if you even think about getting takeout from 'Ralph's Pagoda' again, I swear that this time I'll puke right on your shoes."
Several miles away, the mansion that belonged to Dominique Destine was dark and silent, most of its windows boarded up, apparently uninhabited. That was the way Demona preferred it; the house had yet to be bothered by Christmas carolers or Halloween trick-or-treating brats. Gangs of youths and homeless people did occasionally try to trespass, but most of them were deterred by the fifteen-foot-tall wrought-iron fencing around her home and the more modern security measures that accompanied it. For those few who managed to slip past all those defenses, she had a sub-basement beneath the wine cellar that still had plenty of room for more bodies.
She had returned to Manhattan from her Paris offices only the day before, having decided to spend some time overseeing her operations there after the events of the last Hunter's Moon. It hadn't taken long to air out the few rooms she used and make them livable again; now, as she reclined now on a couch and sipped at a very fine cognac, she reflected upon all that had happened in the last month, since she had come within mere seconds of achieving her life's goal, only to have her ex-mate and ex-clan foil her plans again. The sheer idiocy of Goliath, to destroy the Praying Gargoyle figure and risk the entire clan's destruction just for the sake of wretched humanity! If Angela had not been standing right there at that moment (with that look in her eyes saying louder than words that despite her fear, she was prepared to die with her human-loving clan rather than live without them), Demona would have released the virus on the spot, just to see the look on Goliath's face before he started screaming. But… even if Angela had turned against her like everyone else, Demona just could not bring herself to kill her as well. Not her only daughter…
She supposed that she still had hopes of persuading Angela to leave that pitiful collection of males, and take her rightful place at her mother's side. She was certain Angela had begun to waver in her foolish faith in humanity by the time Thailog had come for her; if she'd been able to see her daughter every night, instead of only one night in six, she would likely have succeeded in winning her over. But after a night of listening to her mother and the voice of centuries of experience, she was then exposed to five nights of human-loving spiels from her detestable father and the rest of the clan… Perhaps she should find a way to bring Angela here and keep her in loving custody for a few months. Perhaps… After she made certain there would be no Hunter coming around to plague her.
It still galled and enraged her, how easily she had been fooled by her chosen personal aide. Robyn had been a Hunter! If she'd had time for it, she would have gone back and gutted the bitch, and watched her die slowly. But she hadn't, not with the youngest brother coming hot on her tail, the most reluctant of the three now become the most bloodthirsty. But she'd evaded him until sunrise had shifted her to human form, then jumped a homeless woman and taken the clothes that human would no longer need, before losing herself among the teeming wretches of humanity.
She'd long since memorized her credit card and calling card numbers, and so it was relatively simple to contact her office and inform them that she would be leaving the country immediately, to oversee the operations beginning in South Africa… But strictly incognito, to ensure the head of operations there would not put up a false front to deceive his boss. That was, she was sure, enough to send the Hunter off on a wild goose chase if he happened to still have a secret contact in her organization. And if the head of ops in South Africa happened to hear of her 'incognito visit' through the grapevine and began sweating bullets, well, that would be a pleasant side effect.
Instead of South Africa, she'd gone to Paris and began streamlining the operations there just as she had at Nightstone headquarters, eliminating over half of the personnel who had been recommended for hire by Thailog and might still be loyal to him (though they'd never seen him, only heard his voice over the phone and received typed memos). She hadn't seen any sign of him since she'd crawled free of the burning wreckage of the roller coaster, but it was better not to take the chance of one of them being somehow subverted by him. If only she'd had another scientist as brilliant as Sevarius, she would have been delighted to personally terminate his employment as well, but the scum was simply too brilliant a mind to waste. She would continue to employ him until she found a suitable replacement, but the very night after she did, Sevarius would find that her memory of betrayal was as sharp as her talons, and her imagination on ways of extracting vengeance as vivid as fresh blood.
While living in Paris, she'd sent out feelers for the whereabouts of the three Hunters. While not as satisfying as dealing with them personally, it was gratifying to know that Robyn Canmore was in jail and her brother Jason in a prison hospital, and both awaiting trial for the attack on the police station that had resulted in the destruction of its clocktower. (Why had it never occurred to her that the Maza slut would provide a home for them there? After Puck had cast his spell she could have walked in during the day, shattered Goliath in his sleep, and taken over the clan with ease once the others were done grieving.) But of the third Hunter, Jon Canmore, there had been nothing reported since the night of their encounter at St. Damien's Cathedral. Perhaps the fool had heard the rumor of her going to South Africa and was even now looking everywhere in Capetown for her.
She'd waited out a full month to be sure the third Hunter was not lurking around her headquarters, then returned home on the Concorde barely ten hours ago. And now, as she idly swirled her cognac and gazed into the fire, she decided to turn in early and catch a few more hours sleep than usual, since it was such a quiet night. She'd be returning to her office in the morning, and no doubt there would be a great deal of material to review, not to mention dealing with the personnel who had slacked off in her absence and would be rudely surprised by her sudden return. Yes, tomorrow would likely be a very busy day.
After an hour or so on watch, Goliath's mind began to wander a little as well, and onto his favorite subject of late: Elisa. They'd had almost no time alone together lately, between the demands of her job with the police force, the recent fuss over her brother's wedding and his own clan's patrols and other affairs. He'd hoped to have some time alone with her the last time they'd been together, when she and Matt Bluestone came to the castle for King Arthur's reading of the scrolls, but afterwards she'd driven Matt back to his home and gone to her own apartment to catch up on much-needed sleep. He couldn't deny her the rest she'd so obviously needed, after a week of near-sleepless days while she and her mother prepared for Talon's wedding, and so had stayed at the castle instead. He wished sometimes that he could take her into stone sleep with him, so she'd never have to suffer interruptions during the day and would awaken each night as refreshed as he did. He knew better than to try, though; if it didn't work, she'd spend all day trapped in an embrace of stone.
His thoughts were interrupted by Broadway, hopping over to his perch and holding out a hoagie sandwich for him. "Here you go, and no peppers this time, I promise!" Broadway said cheerfully.
"Thank you," as he accepted it and began tearing into it; at his great size and wingspan, he needed as many or more calories per night as Broadway ate. (His lesser size didn't prevent Broadway from packing in those calories, though, and it sometimes privately amazed Goliath that the male could eat all he did and still fly with ease.)
Broadway said he was welcome, then shuffled his talons a bit. "Say, I was wondering… I know these doggone Quarrymen are making life kinda difficult for us right now, but we're not gonna let them ruin Halloween for us, are we? And we're still gonna go see 'Man of La Mancha' the night before?" It was hard to tell which event he was more excited about; by the accounts they'd read, the play was a wonderful story, told and acted out while accompanied by music. To see such a thing live and in person would be like a return to the 'old days' at Wyvern, when traveling minstrels and players would put on shows for the humans there, while the gargoyles watched from the battlements.
Goliath smiled past his mouthful of sandwich, then swallowed and spoke. "No, our plans haven't changed significantly because of them. So long as everyone stays in the rafters, we should be able to attend the play safely enough." Particularly since Elisa wanted to see the off-Broadway musical with them; for another 'date' with her, even with the entire clan in attendance, he'd have gone even if they knew the Quarrymen would be sitting in the front row seats. "As for actually walking openly amongst the populace on Halloween… Xanatos did say he had some thoughts on how to make the evening safer for us, though he would not yet reveal how. We'll speak more of it later… after we've finished our watch here tonight," he said with a significantly arched brow ridge. Broadway took the hint and went back to his own perch.
Halfway across town, the warehouse was dark and quiet. The night watch didn't let their guard down, though; they kept on the alert for the slightest noise or any sign of movement, both inside and outside. The ones patrolling outside kept scanning the nearby deserted alleys, but also frequently looked upward, scanning the roofs.
A dark blue sedan drove up to the warehouse, and its driver was promptly met and challenged for clearance and passwords. Once the identity of its occupant was confirmed, the guards opened the door to the warehouse and let him in. The guards inside the door came to attention when he walked inside. "Sir!"
"At ease, men," the newcomer said easily. "I just had an attack of insomnia, and decided to put my mind at ease."
The man walked nonchalantly about the warehouse, flanked by one of the night watch, and stopped next to one of the items in the middle of the warehouse; a sleek helicopter also painted dark blue. He patted the tail stabilizers fondly, then asked the guard with him, "Quiet night?"
"Very quiet, sir." The guard smiled briefly, a nervous flash of teeth. "Like the calm before a storm."
"Well put," Jon Castaway said with a returning smile, that had a predatory shade to it. "Yes, it's always good to have a quiet night… before a very busy day."
When dawn reached the battlements of Castle Wyvern, it found all the gargoyles safe and sound and approaching their perches to sleep for the day. "It's too bad that human didn't stir from his home all night," Broadway said a bit wistfully. "It would have been nice to be able to catch him red-handed, and help Elisa on her case."
"Perhaps what little we did observe will help her in some small way," Goliath reminded him. "And I doubt all our nights will be so quiet as this one has been."
"An' that's the truth," Hudson said with a mildly amused snort, as he reached down and rubbed Bronx's ridges.
Goliath looked at him and said, "Which reminds me… I've just spoken to Xanatos about Father Sullivan visiting us here. He likewise approves, and he'll have a visitor's pass ready for us to give to the priest by tonight."
"Ah, that's good," Hudson said with a nod. "I will admit, 'twas interesting to talk about our ways with a 'man of the cloth' again. If only more of them were like this one and old Brother Edmund, instead of the priests who came after him…" If those other priests of the Middle Ages had been more tolerant, instead of continually haranguing the human residents for "consorting with such inhuman creatures", the populace in general would likely have been more tolerant of them as well, and the betrayal and massacre might never have happened. Then he snorted at his own flight of fancy, and reminded himself that dwelling on "what if's" was about as useful at teats on a boar. Right now, it was time to choose a good fearsome pose for the day.
Dawn had come and gone recently, leaving the skies bright blue without too much visible haze from smog; it appeared to be the beginning of another beautiful day in late autumn. Not that Owen Burnett was the type of person to spend much time simply gazing up at blue skies or down at the riot of autumn colors now gracing the trees of Central Park. And even if he was, right now he was far too busy with a rather unpleasant task.
Owen sighed as he tried once again to change a diaper on a squirming, cranky baby with just one useable hand. Normally Alexander was more cooperative for this, lying still except for kicking his tiny feet occasionally, as though sensing his tutor/guardian/nanny was under a handicap. But with his mouth still hurting from so many baby teeth coming in all at once, consideration for others was not high on this baby's priority list. He fussed, and squirmed, and nearly rolled off the table while Owen struggled to clean up the mess he'd made all over his bottom before putting the new diaper on. Deep inside Owen, Puck fumed and wondered if there was some way he could justify an appearance now, and a little magic, to the geas binding him tight. There had to be a way to justify doing this magically, without having to get a noseful of gawdawful stink from a messy diaper, and--aaggh, he'd swear the brat did that deliberately!--some very nasty fluid sprayed onto his chin.
Finally, finally he got the diaper changed. Probably just in time for Alex to wet it again, he thought ruefully as he carried him back to his crib. And predictably, once the diaper was on and the job was done Alex settled into the crook of his arm without any fuss at all.
Once the child was settled in his crib again, Owen returned to his and Mr. Xanatos' schedule for the day. In addition to the usual tasks involved in the day-to-day management of a multinational corporation, they had a few unusual items to deal with. The special rush order from Korea should have arrived already, and it was time to find out what had happened to delay it. Then there was his trip to Albany and the scheduled luncheon with the governor of New York, and the following meeting with his stockholders to discuss the recent decrease in Xanatos Enterprises' stock prices and plans to turn the trend around, and the meeting with R & D on testing their latest developments in self-targeting weaponry and force field technology, and last but not least in Xanatos' mind, the hiring of a staff to run the job placement center for the Labyrinth residents. Xanatos optimistically estimated that at least half of the residents down there could be rehabilitated and learn to lift their heads up high in society again if they were given the means and opportunity to better themselves, and the first step in that direction was to find them both meaningful and manageable jobs. Towards that end, they needed to find 'headhunters', job placement specialists, who could understand their somewhat unique situation and keep quiet about the existence of the mutates; today they would begin interviewing the applicants for those positions.
During much of the day Fox would be caring for little Alexander, but currently she and Xanatos were down in the gym for their daily exercise and sparring routines, and while she was otherwise occupied, caring for their young son was Owen's task. Ordinarily, he didn't mind at all, as he was genuinely fond of the little tyke. But as far as he was concerned, potty training couldn't come a day too soon.
In short order Fox and David arrived arm in arm, freshly showered, dressed and ready to start the day. " 'Morning, Oatmeal," Fox said cheerfully as she walked in, then quickly checked the crib and cooed, "And good morning to you, our 'little emperor'!" Alex happily babbled and waved a tiny fist at her, his sore mouth forgotten for the moment.
"Good morning, Owen," Xanatos said after he also peeked in on his son. "What's first on the agenda?"
"Contacting our Korean offices and sorting out the delay in shipment," Owen said without looking at the planner, "Followed by the shutting down of castle's automated defense system for the approximately two hours needed to install the latest upgrade."
"You know the codes; you do that while I'm on the phone with Kim Yee," Xanatos said as he picked up the phone and began dialing the numbers on the sheet Owen was holding out for him.
Far across town, the pilot of the second helicopter had just finished the last of the preflight checks and gave those waiting outside a thumbs-up; they were ready to launch. Castaway nodded to him in acknowledgement, then turned back to Bradford, his best Quarrymen lieutenant, leaning in to better be heard over the noise of the idly rotating blades. It had taken both an obscene amount of money and all the persuasive charm Castaway could muster in order to secure an informant inside the Aerie Building who could report on happenings in the castle above. But it had paid off in spades; they now had proof, by way of a video clip from a surveillance tape, that the gargoyles indeed resided there. And moreover, they now had a window of opportunity to strike, unhindered by the defenses that traitor to humanity called Xanatos had installed in the castle! Castaway now urged his lieutenant to "Remember, a quick strike and leave immediately, and no harming any civilian personnel unless they actively try to prevent you from destroying the gargoyles!"
"Yes, sir!" Bradford said with a nod. "A pity you can't come with us, sir."
Castaway gave an exasperated sigh. "Our benefactor does pick the most inconvenient times to demand a meeting." Castaway had thought of postponing this mission until afterwards, so he could accompany his men as they struck a blow for the human race, but according to their informant in the Aerie Building, they had only a two-hour window to strike in before the castle defenses came on-line again. "Still, I trust you to do this by the numbers, exactly as we've planned. Good hunting!"
Bradford gave him a quick salute, then sprinted off to join his team aboard the second helicopter. Once all the Quarrymen for the strike force were aboard, the speed of the rotors increased, and the noise level rose from a throbbing din to an almighty roar as the two helicopters rose into the air. Castaway sketched a quick salute to his teams as they left, before turning and going to his limo for another meeting with Oliver Grimm.
The misunderstanding with Korea had been settled to their satisfaction; the first planeload of shipments would be arriving in New York by noon, and distributed to the appropriate stores before nightfall. The technicians were already started on incorporating the latest weaponry into the castle's automated defense system, and believed they could have it done a full twenty minutes ahead of schedule. The governor's secretary had just called to confirm their luncheon would take place as scheduled, and the company's stock had risen two points already that morning; everything was going well indeed. Xanatos even found himself whistling a little, as he took a moment from his schedule to go check on his family.
He found Alexander happily crawling across the nursery floor in pursuit of his favorite toy as it rolled across the floor, while Fox sat cross-legged nearby and looked on indulgently. It was downright ironic that Alexander Fox Xanatos, heir to a business empire worth more than several small countries, and inundated since birth with some of the most expensive baby toys on the market, both 'educational' and 'just-too-cute-to resist' toys… was most often found playing with a cardboard paper towel tube he'd somehow gotten from the kitchen's trash bin. The first time they'd tried to take it away from him he'd screamed bloody murder, and thrown a magical tantrum that blew out the nursery windows. Luckily, Puck had spun into being on the instant, and hastily whipped up an 'anti-tantrum' spell often used by Fey parents to control their young's outbursts. It kicked in whenever Alex used his powers in anger, to limit the effects of whatever proto-spell he cast to mere bright flashes of light, so he didn't inadvertently bring the castle down around their ears. Once the spell was in place, Puck also strongly recommended they "give Alex his stupid tube back."
"Hey, son! How's Daddy's little man?" David said as he crouched down and held his arms out invitingly. Alexander turned his head and saw him, and babbled in delight while clumsily waving a hand in the air. He then scooted around to face him… and magically launched himself like a human football straight into his father's arms.
Luckily, this time David was prepared for this stunt and braced for impact. Instead of being bowled over onto his back again, he caught him with a sharp "Oof!" and hugged him close, then stood up with his son resting on his shoulder. "Getting bigger and heavier every day, aren't you, boy?" he asked wryly.
"And trickier to handle," Fox agreed. "Thank God we have Puck during the day and the gargoyles at night to help keep an eye out for him; otherwise we'd have to hire Sabrina the Teenage Witch for a baby-sitter."
"Well, I knew before I married you that you'd keep my life interesting." Of course, David had hardly known then that he was marrying the daughter of Queen Titania, and would end up fathering Avalon's Heir. But he had to admit, with Alexander he was not too likely to become the average staid old 'fuddy-duddy dad'.
Owen came in with his cell phone and organizer, his demeanor as emotionless as ever. "Mr. Xanatos, the manager of our facilities in Ohio has called with… ahem."
David knew that particular sharp "ahem" all too well; Owen had just spotted something potentially disastrous. He was protectively hugging Alexander close even as he whipped his head around to follow the direction of Owen's long ghost-pale finger, as his majordomo said merely, "I believe we have uninvited company, sir."
From outside the window, they could see two helicopters painted dark blue and approaching at a fast clip. "Sonuvabitch!" David swore, forgetting for the moment that 'little jugs have big ears.' "Quarrymen! And at the worst possible time, with our defenses are down; how the hell did they know to strike now!"
Fox was already on her feet and moving, with all the speed, agility and quick thinking that had made her leader of the Pack. "Do we still have the portable anti-aircraft mortars in the armory on this floor?" she shouted over her shoulder as she sprinted out the door.
"Yes, and the high-powered laser rifles!" as David hurriedly thrust his son into Owen's arms, knowing that Owen's stone fist made him incapable of handling a lot of the larger weaponry but trusting him to keep their son safe.
"That won't be necessary," Owen said dryly, and suddenly spun around in a blur of white, to end up less than a second later as a wickedly grinning Puck, who finished, "These boys are about to learn the hard way what happens when you cross a Trickster!" And with that, he zipped out the door with Alex.
Fox shrieked loud and high enough to shatter crystal when she realized that Puck was heading straight for the battlements, with her baby boy still in his arms!
"M'boy, this isn't the worst possible time, this is coming at the perfect time," Puck crooned as he flew through the halls with Alexander, ignoring the shouting parents in his wake. "Y'see, with the gargoyles still asleep on their perches, they can't defend you, right? And those nasty ol' Quarrymen are such rabid fanatics that they even like to take potshots at humans that befriend the gargoyles, like 'Auntie Elisa'. Therefore, there's a real chance they could try to hurt you and your parents. And that gives me a free hand to act to protect you, and maybe even have some fun in the process!"
And the Quarrymen piloting the two helicopters and aiming their weaponry at the gargoyles suddenly saw appear on the battlements a white-haired youth with a baby in his arms. By the time they realized there was something odd about the man's ears and eyes, they were hearing a magically amplified voice, booming loud enough they could hear it over the noise of the rotors:
"Quarrymen early birds,
high in your whirly-birds!
Listen you to my words…
and become real birds!"
Instants later, the two helicopters started falling out of the sky, with frantic-looking pigeons fluttering away from the controls.
Nearly all the crewmen, all who had both seen and heard Puck's spell, had been turned into birds, but there were a few men still in the back, waiting to land so they could start their work. They screamed and cursed in varying tones and languages as they realized they were falling. They scrambled to reach the controls, though not one of them had any clue how to fly helicopters. Suddenly, their descent stopped with a jerk, though there was still no one at the controls.
Up on the battlements, Puck's brow creased in concentration, as he reached out his free hand towards the helicopters. "Y'see, Alex, this is a valuable lesson in levitating objects," he said conversationally to the baby in his arms, who was clapping delightedly. "These particular helicopters are mostly made of aluminum and steel. Now, we can't touch or affect steel, because it's got iron in it, so normally you wouldn't be able to levitate them. But these boys did us the immense favor of covering nearly every surface with several coats of dark blue paint! So, what I'm really holding in midair is the paint under and around the helicopters, but that keeps the whirlybirds themselves in place. Let's hear it for Krylon!" As David, panting, skidded to a halt beside him, he said off-handedly, "What do you think, Davey, set 'em down on the helipad?"
"Th-the helipad's fine," David said with wide eyes.
"Better alert Aerie Security that they're coming in. There seem to be a few unaffected Quarrymen in each one, along with some pigeons that are currently doing what pigeons do best: pooping all over the upholstery."
The four Quarrymen that hadn't been affected by the spell had still seen their companions suddenly vanish right in front of their eyes, and their helicopters jerked around by an unseen force. So when they were set down on the helipad with a bone-jarring thump, and they heard another booming voice (This from the megaphone-wielding Chief of Aerie Building Security) telling them to come out with their hands up or suffer the consequences, three of the four meekly complied. The fourth one just stayed crouched under his seat, shivering and babbling about demons in broad daylight, and had to be pried out by the security officers once he was found.
When Xanatos reached the helipad, accompanied by his family and Owen Burnett, the four were in custody for trespassing and violating private airspace, and the Chief of Security was looking through his notebook to see what other charges he could toss at them. "Nice work, Barnes," Xanatos said. "How many did we net?"
"Four, sir, all unarmed upon capture. We also confiscated two sidearms lying loose on the deck, both of them Colt .45's with full clips, two portable rocket launchers of some sort, some as-yet-unidentified munitions for those rockets, and a dozen of those Quarryhammers you briefed us on."
"Very good." After a moment of silence, Xanatos asked casually, "Anything else?"
"Well, odd as it may seem… They also had a few pigeons on board. Zowalski and Noble are trying to round some of them up right now," as Barnes gestured, trying to suppress a grin, at one of the helicopters… from wherein some muttered cursing, frantic cooing and fluttering of feathers could be heard. "Not sure what they brought those along for," and here he grinned wide, "unless for the sheer nuisance value, considering what they do best."
"A good point," Xanatos said with a wry smile. "Let me know when they're all rounded up."
"Will do, sir, but I'm afraid that we won't have all of them when we do. When the men came out, three of them were spotted hopping out as well, and just fluttered over the side with the wind before we could grab them," as Barnes pointed off to the side.
Xanatos and Owen looked wide-eyed at each other for a moment. "Hope they figure out how to fly before they hit the ground," Xanatos muttered under his breath, before turning to Barnes again. "Have the groundskeepers for the arboretum put up a chicken-wire enclosure in a corner, and keep them there for right now. Once we've, ah, checked them over for listening devices and micro-cams in their feathers--yes, I know that sounds like it's right out of a James Bond film, but you'd be amazed at what people will try--once we're finished looking them over, we'll release them into Central Park." That would buy him some time to figure out what he was going to do with the ex-humans. In the meantime, he had a quick and quiet question to ask Owen: "Is Alexander ready to learn a memory-loss spell?"
Owen subtly nodded. A few minutes after that, the four prisoners were taken to a conference room, so Xanatos and his personal aide could 'ask them a few questions' about why they were attacking his home. He told Barnes that he wanted his wife and son present "so these men can see the full horror and magnitude of what they attempted, putting an innocent child's life in danger." Barnes nodded, then nodded again when he was told that his presence was not required for the interrogation. He left the room but quietly hung around a ways down the hall, and was not overly surprised to find a medical team being summoned a short while later, and the four men being wheeled out on stretchers, most of them snoring loudly. He nodded to himself as they went by, telling himself this was another matter to store in his 'forgettery'. One of the reasons Barnes had lasted as long as he had as head of Building Security was his keen eye for odd or suspicious behavior from virtually everyone, but a blind eye for odd and suspicious behavior from Xanatos and his personal aide.
"So, when they wake up in Central Park, they won't remember anything after going to bed last night?" Fox asked as she accepted Alexander back from Owen and checked his diaper.
"That is correct, madam," Owen said with his usual straight face. "They will be no doubt highly disconcerted to find themselves waking up on park benches instead of in their own beds, but it cannot be helped. But at the very least, the loss of two helicopters and most of the personnel assigned to them, but without any bodies or other evidence of 'fowl play', will give the Quarrymen pause before thinking of attacking the castle directly again."
" 'Fowl play.' That one hurt my teeth," Xanatos said with a wince, though he couldn't help grinning. He was one of the few people who knew Owen's second secret, that he was an inveterate lover of truly gawdawful puns. Not that he used them very often; he had an 'utterly emotionless professional ' persona to maintain, after all. But every once in a while Owen would slip a subtle but ruthless pun into a business conversation, that invariably would leave half the conference room baffled as to why the other half was screaming for mercy. This was the first pun he'd made since Puck's punishment and banishment by Oberon, and David took it as a good sign that his friend was coming out of his depression at last. "Well, besides finding and plugging our 'leak' to the Quarrymen, what's next on the agenda?"
Owen checked his watch and concluded, "If your helicopter leaves in the next ten minutes, sir, you'll still be able to make your luncheon appointment in Albany with the governor..."