Housing Issues

LIFE GOES ON

Meanwhile, Back in New York…

Part 9: Housing Issues

By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc.)

Author's note: This story takes place in the timeline during the latter half of "Mating Games 11: Changing the Rules." I freely acknowledge that I don't own the Disney characters, and I'm not making a dime off this, so please don't sue.

Since recovering from a really bad case of adult-onset chicken pox and coming back to work, Detective Elisa Maza had gotten into the habit of stepping out to use the pay phone outside the 23rd precinct, every night at about 3:00 a.m. She'd also come back from that sick leave with a wedding ring on her left hand; something that everyone in the precinct was sure hadn't been there before.

When asked, Captain Chavez had pointedly said that it wasn't anyone's business as to whether or not the detective had made any recent changes to the personal data in her personnel file… but she had casually commented that she hadn't had any reason to open that particular file cabinet since before Maza had gone into quarantine.

Detective Bluestone swore up and down that Maza really had been in quarantine for chicken pox, and that he'd seen while visiting her that it had been a really nasty case, too; her face had been liberally spattered with hideous pox pustules, and she'd had to go around wearing thick socks on her hands to keep from scratching herself and leaving scars. "I thought for sure she'd end up scratching and scarring herself, and she'd need plastic surgery to get rid of the scars, but… that lady has an iron will, let me tell you. Not scratching any itches for nearly two full weeks; that is control! But yeah, she really was a quarantine case. Look, I swear, guys--my hand to God; this is a solemn oath--Elisa Maza was not on a honeymoon in Vegas, or up at Niagara Falls, or wherever people usually go for honeymoons. You satisfied now? …C'mon, guys, we're partners; if she'd really gotten married, don't you think she'd have at least invited me to her wedding?"

Finally, four cops drew straws while in the locker room, and the cop who'd drawn the short straw went straight to Detective Maza's desk and asked her what the wedding ring signified, and who she kept calling every night. He asked, while everyone else held their breaths and braced for impact; the detective was notoriously touchy about her private life, and usually welcomed personal questions about as much as other folks welcomed dog shit on their shoes.

But the detective only said, "Not that it's any of your business… but the ring was left to me by my grandmother, and I finally decided it made no sense to just leave it in the jewelry box forever. And the phone calls are to my sister in Arizona; three a.m. here is only midnight there, and she's… going through some stuff right now, and that's all I'm going to say about that. So do you have any other reasons to keep wasting my time and yours?" as she gave him a glare that would have done a basilisk proud.

After much more discussion in the locker room and break room, general consensus was that the detective was lying, and the ring had been given to her by her lesbian lover; the same person she was calling every night. She hadn't sent out wedding invitations or updated her personal data because gay marriages were illegal in almost every state in the union, and during her 'quarantine' she'd been wearing makeup to look like chicken pox--no one got through a really bad case of that without at least a little scratching and scarring--and keeping her lover stashed in the bedroom of her apartment whenever Bluestone had come to her door. Unless he was in on the deception too… naahhh, Bluestone was too much of a straight-arrow. He was probably telling the truth as he knew it. So the only questions that remained were: who was her lesbian lover, and where did the lady work at—and was there any chance of videotaping the two of them in bed together?

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

"Latest speculation is, she's a night nurse at Manhattan Medical," Matt advised Elisa when they were alone in her Ford Fairlane at 4 a.m., going out to get a late dinner/early breakfast together. "You might think about getting a blanket from there, and throwing it in the back seat with the stencil clearly visible; that'd be a nice bit of misdirection. Make it look like you've been back-seating with someone who works there, on her dinner break or whatever."

"Just great; now I have to leave props lying around," Elisa sighed. "Why is my personal life so goddamn important to everyone?"

"Because you're keeping it secret," Matt said with mild amusement on his features.

"I know, I know… that was rhetorical, okay?"

"Fact is, Elisa, this is a rumor you should be encouraging a little." Matt was entirely serious now. "Not enough for them to track down and name any specific person, but enough to throw them off any trail that might lead to the gargoyles. Gay marriage may be illegal, but people are going to accept a quasi-marriage to a lesbian lover a lot easier than they'd accept being married to, let's face it, a big purple monster with wings and a tail."

"A big purple person, dammit!"

"You know that and I know that, but John Q. Public doesn't know that. And they're just not ready to hear it yet; definitely not ready to accept an extremely mixed marriage."

"Too true," Elisa admitted. She sighed as they pulled up to the drive-through window at McD's. "All right, I'll see if I can talk someone in the ER at—Manhattan Medical, you said?—into parting with a blanket or two from their supply closet."

After they got their food and had pulled into a nearby parking spot long enough to open the ketchup packets and poke straws in the drinks, Matt asked, "So what's the latest news from New Orleans? Brooklyn chosen his lady yet?"

Elisa grinned; she'd clearly been waiting for him to ask. "Nope, but they did have a wedding there just a few hours ago. Lex got married in what was one helluva hurry-up ceremony, from what Goliath told me."

"Married in a hurry? I thought gargoyle ladies—full-blooded ones, that is—couldn't get pregnant outside of their breeding seasons," Matt said with a raised eyebrow.

"Nope, Rebecca's not pregnant. But there was a ceremony for her and Lex… and Robert!"

Matt had been about to take a bite of his burger, but he paused with it halfway to his mouth. "..Beg pardon?"

"Yes, you heard me right. Lexington now has two mates; Rebecca and Robert!"

"Um… Robert's not usually a name for a girl; did you maybe mean Roberta?"

"No; I told you about Robert, don't you remember? Blue gargoyle, looks like a horse, gay, great artist, sells his artwork under the name Robert LeBeau? The one who asked to join Goliath's clan because there are too many bigots in the clan down there. Don't you remember?"

"Oh… that Robert." After another pause, Matt slowly said, "So Lexington is now married to… a straight girl… and a gay guy. And that means he's…"

"Bisexual, yes. You didn't know?"

"No, I definitely didn't know that! Sheeez…" as Matt distractedly rubbed at the back of his head.

Elisa looked at him in concern. "Matt… is this going to be a problem for you? You didn't seem to object to Robert when I told you about him…"

"Well, no, I've got no problem with gays so long as they're not making passes at me; live and let live, consenting adults, and all that. I just… yeah, I can handle it. It's just a real surprise, you know? I thought Lex was straight… how'd you find out?"

Elisa smiled wryly. "Early last year, I surprised him one night while he was standing watch up in the clocktower, while everyone else was on patrol. He'd been occupying the time by, ah, admiring the pictures in some porn magazines he'd fished out of dumpsters… and some of them were gay porn."

"Oh."

While they ate, Elisa told Matt what Goliath had told her, about Robert and Lexington having fallen for each other while they'd been banished together with Rebecca to the bayou. And that Goliath had performed the mating ceremony in such a hurry in order to make it absolutely clear that Robert, and the threesome, would be welcome in his clan… since the New Orleans clan had been absolutely scandalized, and wanting to banish Robert forever for having 'corrupted' Lexington, despite what that gargoyle had told them. "He said he was sure that if they had banished him, or even just kept threatening to banish him, Robert would commit suicide by sunrise. Gargoyles need a clan; they can't survive long without one, which is why even a week-long temporary banishment is such a big deal for them."

Matt pointed out, "From what you've told me, Demona survived roughly a thousand years without a clan."

Elisa replied grimly, "One: she's immortal. As I understand it, she can't even kill herself; only Macbeth can do it. Two: that bitch is criminally insane. And being alone for so long probably had something to do with her mental state." And Matt conceded that she just might be right about that.

After finishing her burger, Elisa admitted, "I'm worried about how Xanatos and Fox will react to all this. I haven't even told them about Robert joining the clan yet, and I have no idea of their views on gays and bisexuals—and bigamy, too! What if they don't want any of that in their home? It's just not safe for gargoyles to stay up in the clocktower anymore, Goliath would never let the clan be split up, and there's no way they'd all fit in my apartment. I've already been trying to scout out another safe place they could live in, in case the Quarrymen wrecked the castle despite all Xanatos' assurances, but--"

Now it was Matt's turn to smile wryly, as he interrupted her worries. "Elisa, keep in mind that our guys are already really, really different from the average New Yorker. They have wings, they hatch from eggs, they can have kids only four times a century, and above all else they're freakin' stone statues by day. If Xanatos and Fox can share their home with folks like that, then so long as this threesome keeps their sexual antics in the bedroom instead of doing it in front of the kids, I don't think there'll be much of a problem with accepting just a little more difference."

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

At nearly the same time, across town in the Aerie Building, David Xanatos yawned before sitting back in his favorite chair with a cup of instant coffee. He sipped the coffee and grimaced at the taste; it was a cheap brand, from a jar of instant that their nanny Anne Marsden had been given on one of her visits to the Labyrinth. A far cry from the imported coffees that he preferred, but none of those came in instant form, and he hadn't wanted to risk rousing anyone else with the smell of an excellent coffee brewing. Even cheap, the coffee had a sizeable dose of caffeine, and that's what he needed right now, after getting up nearly three hours earlier than normal.

When the alarm had gone off and he'd stumbled out of bed, he'd muttered to Fox that he had to call Japan during their business hours; another conference call about an international merger. Fox had nodded blearily before rolling over and going back to sleep; dealing with businesses on the other side of the world often required either getting up very early or staying up late. However, this time he'd made no phone call, and certainly not roused his personal aide (Owen Burnett was more fluent in both Japanese and Mandarin Chinese than he was). Instead, he'd quietly made the instant coffee, then even more quietly opened the parcel that had arrived yesterday by private courier, marked for his eyes only. Inside was the report he'd been expecting; a sizeable three-ring binder full of papers. A report that no one else in the castle knew about, and for the moment David Xanatos thought it best to keep it that way.

It was the final report from the private investigator firm he'd hired several weeks ago, for a background check. Every employee hired by Xanatos Enterprises received a background check, but for most of them it was a cursory check; verifying the references, checking for an undisclosed criminal history, the usual things an employer looks for to be sure the new employee will be an asset to the company instead of a disaster waiting to happen. But those people who were hired to work in or have access to the castle atop the building received a much more thorough investigation; David generally took no chances when it came to his family's safety.

An exception to this rule of thorough investigation before hiring was Anne Marsden, Alexander's nanny. She'd been hired the very same day that Xanatos had met her in the Labyrinth, on Owen Burnett's recommendation. To David's mind, Owen's word was good as gold—actually, far better than gold. After Puck had accepted David's choice of a lifetime of serving him instead of immortality, Owen Burnett had become the most loyal and reliable of aides, and had never done anything or made any recommendation that David had later regretted.

After the hiring, a cursory investigation had been done on Anne by Xanatos Enterprises' HR department, but only because he hadn't bothered to tell them not to. Of more import was the very thorough investigation that had also been done, one which Anne had figured into. But it hadn't been focused on Anne herself; instead, Xanatos had hired a PI firm to dig up everything they could on Anne's deceased husband, Phillip Marsden, and his immediate family.

"Everything" turned out to be quite a lot; the report's two-inch-wide binder was filled to maximum capacity. The agency had thoughtfully categorized it by family member and by subsections such as education, employment history, medical history, hobbies and significant relationships. Most of it was of little interest to David that night; instead he focused on the relationships associated with one woman, the mother of Philip Marsden.

Penelope Marsden—Penny Marsden, as most had known her while she was alive. Penny had been the only child of Perry and Pamela Marsden, a Lutheran pastor and a Sunday School teacher, born several years into their marriage; after long years of childlessness, her father had joked that she was 'heaven-cent'.

When Perry Marsden died while Penny was still young (he'd tripped and fallen down the stairs from the choir loft, breaking his neck), the father's younger brother, the Reverend Quentin Marsden, had moved in and taken over as head of both his congregation and his household. He did not formally adopt Penny, but petitioned the court to appoint him as her legal guardian, even though her mother Pamela was still alive and in the household. The record showed that Pamela chose not to contest the appointment (no reason given to the court), and the petition was granted.

Penny had two boyfriends while in high school, one during her junior year and one during her senior year; from what the investigators had ascertained, neither relationship had progressed beyond the hand-holding and cheek-kissing stage. Quentin Marsden had ruled the household with a hard hand, and by all reports he'd put the fear of God—or at least the fear of His local mouthpiece—into both boys, and driven them off within weeks. For the few dates that Penny had gone on, he had insisted on chaperones, either himself or her mother or a couple of old ladies from his congregation.

Hard to believe any teen would have accepted such outdated methods of control over her love life during the 'free-love era', but Penny had… though perhaps not willingly. One investigator had recorded that a classmate of Penny's had noted she always wore long skirts with thick socks and long-sleeved sweaters and blouses, covering every inch of her body that could reasonably be covered, but that a few times while they'd been changing for gym class she'd glimpsed large bruises on Penny's arms and torso. It could not be proven, but there were suggestions that Quentin's hard hand had been applied liberally to his niece and quasi-daughter.

Penny had graduated from high school, become engaged to a boy that Quentin had picked out for her, then disappeared six weeks before her wedding. Disappeared, and reappeared at her Aunt Olivia's house ninety miles away; Aunt Olivia had been her father's older sister, and reportedly the black sheep of her generation for refusing to marry and produce more soldiers for the Lord's army. Olivia had been ordered to keep her distance from her brother's family, but evidently kept in touch with Penny by covert means and invited the girl to come live with her once Penny turned 18, and was not legally under her uncle's control anymore.

Olivia Marsden had paid the tuition for Penny's first two years of college. Penny had discovered a talent for structure and design, and studied to be an architect. But during the spring of her second year of college, two things happened: Olivia, a two-pack-a-day smoker, was hospitalized with lung cancer. And Penny met a young man, a recent Russian emigrant named Pietro Ursovich Korsokov, a student of English literature.

The report didn't have much on Pietro, other than that he had arrived from Russia back in 1963, after sneaking under the Iron Curtain with two other teenagers and their family. The immigration records seemed to have been lost over the years, along with any medical records that had been made, but the investigators had found his college and employment record for Pennsylvania. Pietro had paid for his college classes by bartending at an off-campus bar, which was reportedly where Penny had met him, after borrowing some over-21 identification from an older friend. The two had reportedly hit it off immediately, and were a confirmed couple by their third date.

Penny's roommate during her sophomore year of college, Jacqueline Block (née Stephens), had been tracked down and asked about her memories of Penny. Jacqueline remembered well that day that Penny had been informed her Aunt Olivia had died of lung cancer; the same day that she'd found out she was pregnant with Pietro's baby. "We were sitting both there just staring at the test results when the R.A. came knocking on our door with the pastor from the campus chapel, and both of them looking sad for her. Penny had known her aunt was gonna die, that's why she'd been visiting her in the hospital every weekend and Wednesday nights, but that day… it was like getting hit from two sides at once, and Penny just fell apart."

Olivia's will had specified that Penny would inherit everything, but most of her money had gone to pay the bills for the few months that she'd been in and out of hospitals before the end. And just two days after Olivia died, while Penny had still been pulling herself together with Pietro and Jacqueline's help and planning the funeral for her aunt, Quentin had come to the campus and demanded that Penny come home with him. He'd told Penny that her mother Pamela had been 'feeling poorly' and asking for her daughter.

"After losing her poor aunt in such a terrible way—I visited Olivia with Penny once, and that cancer was just eating her away, more every day; cancer is a horrible way to die—anyway, after losing her aunt that way, all it took was hearing that her mother was 'feeling poorly' for Penny to go hightailing it back home to Scranton with her uncle. Pietro insisted on going with her; he just up and wrote me a note to give his boss at the bar that night, telling them he quit, and off he went with them. And I never saw either of them again." (end transcript)

Indeed, after that, no one ever saw Pietro Ursovich Korsokov again. No one in Scranton, Pennsylvania, anyway; the people of Quentin Marsden's church had soon become used to seeing Penny once more, usually hunched miserably in a front row pew, but never once saw a young man with her. Not even after her pregnancy had become obvious, and all sorts of gossip flew through the church about what scandalous, dangerous places those college campuses had become.

Nor did anyone with Pietro's name and his description ever register to vote, apply for a driver's license or even take out a loan in Pennsylvania or anywhere else within a six-state radius. The investigators regretfully concluded that after following Penny Marsden home, Pietro had disappeared off the face of the earth. But since no one in Scranton had known of his existence, and Penny's roommate hadn't seen fit to go to the authorities when neither Penny nor Pietro came back to the college, no foul play was ever suspected on the Marsden family's part.

Phillip Kyle Marsden had been born seven months after Penny returned home. Pamela Marsden had apparently only had the flu when Penny had first come home, but she died of stomach cancer two years later. Penny Marsden hung on for ten more years… then hung herself in the kitchen. The police report on the incident said that Quentin Marsden had been the one to find her body; he'd told the police he'd gone in there to find out why his lunch wasn't ready on time.

Rather than read on to discover how Phillip had fared after his mother's suicide, Xanatos closed the report, thoughtfully stroking his beard. After what he'd read, he was pretty sure he had the answer to one question now… but that answer only raised more questions. Now, instead of Who, he wondered: Why…

The report included plenty of photographs in addition to pages of text. The photo of darkly handsome Pietro (gleaned from a college yearbook), grinning for the camera with a merry twinkle in his eyes, hadn't answered the questions David still had. So he looked at other photos… including the ones of the Marsden house, where Penny and Philip had grown up. The house where Quentin Marsden now lived alone, the investigators had noted.

At first glance, it seemed a typical war-era suburban home, though surrounded by a wrought-iron fence instead of the stereotypical white wooden picket fence. And the front door had, instead of the standard doorbell button, a fair-sized iron cowbell mounted next to it. Under the standard 'No Solicitors' placard was a hand-lettered sign stating 'No Knocking – Ring Bell." A trifle eccentric, but not alarmingly so by most people's standards.

But at second glance, one noticed the crosses everywhere: worked into the designs on the fence; in decorations mounted on every door and over every window; even embossed on the chimney cover that kept the rain from coming down the flue. Crosses everywhere, and most of them appeared to be made of iron. Very little of the house's interior could not be seen in the photos; the curtains for most of the windows were drawn shut. But the kitchen window's curtains were pulled back, and the picture shot from that angle showed what appeared to be another iron cowbell hanging inside the kitchen.

All the windows that opened had windowboxes mounted outside them. And the plants growing in the window boxes… the photographer hadn't labeled the contents, but David recognized them anyway. Plantings of sage, rosemary, thyme and St John's wort. The same stuff that Fox had been growing in windowboxes here and there around the castle.

Xanatos stared at the picture for three full minutes; first in curiosity, then in recognition, then in realization, and finally in dull horror.

Then he got up from his chair, carefully hid the report away in a safe, and went to the nursery where Alexander was sleeping. He picked his son up and sat down in the nearby rocking chair, and for a long time he just held the sleeping infant, slowly rocking with him and listening to him breathe.

And while rocking Alexander, he made a note to see what he could do about getting Quentin Marsden out of that house, and the whole damn thing torn down.

First, he'd try just buying the house from him. Xanatos Enterprises had subsidiaries in Pennsylvania; surely one of them could find a use for that property, and on his orders would offer the crusty old codger a high enough sum to retire to Florida for the rest of his life. And if Quentin didn't want to sell his home at first, there were ways around that too. Pennsylvania had the law of eminent domain; Xanatos Enterprises had enough clout that he could lean on the city fathers to buy the place from Quentin at fair market value, whether he wanted to sell or not. But that would be an option of last resort; invoking eminent domain tended to generate bad publicity, a hue and cry of 'stealing our land!' even though it was all paid for up front. There were other options to try first…

David didn't care what went on the plot of land afterwards; he'd leave it up to the developers. But one way or another, that house was going to come down, and the ground it was on dug up clear past the foundations.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

The next night, soon after the precinct graveyard shift started, Captain Chavez sent word that she wanted to see Detective Bluestone as soon as he had a moment available.

"You wanted to see me, Captain?" Matt Bluestone asked as he came into her office.

"Yes, but not for any real problem; just paperwork. Personnel sent out another reminder about disaster preparedness, and keeping personnel files up to date, so I'm having everyone double-check their personal data. Here," as she handed over a form from his personnel file. "If your next-of-kin's address or phone has changed from what's on the form, draw a line through it and write in the correct information right above it. If it's still the same, initial off to the right."

Bluestone nodded, muttered to himself that his mom had changed her phone number, and began updating the form. Captain Chavez spoke casually while he wrote, saying, "By the way, I heard that the union finally settled their differences with Management, and the strike is over as of tomorrow. We'll have workers upstairs in the clocktower again on Monday."

"About time they got all that cleared up," Matt said absently as he finished updating the form and pushed it across the desk to her. "Thanks, Captain. Anything else?"

"No; just send Maza in here next to update her form," the captain said, twiddling her pen between her fingers; a habit she had when she was deep in thought.

Bluestone nodded and left, and a few minutes later Detective Elisa Maza came in. She accepted the form and nodded over it, updating phone numbers and her sister's address while Chavez said, "By the way, I heard that the union finally settled their differences with Management, and the strike is over as of tomorrow. We'll have workers upstairs in the clocktower again on Monday."

Elisa started to glance towards the ceiling with a wistful expression, then seemed to catch herself and gave a shrug. "I feel sorry for the guys on day shift; I heard it got pretty noisy up there for the two weeks before they all walked out on strike. Not planning on having a night shift working up there, are they?" as she pushed the form back across the desk.

"Not that I've heard, no," Chavez replied, twiddling with her pen again. "Send your rookie Carter in here next, will you?"

The detective said she would, and two minutes later Officer James Carter came in. "You wanted to see me, Captain? Detective Maza said there are more forms for me to fill out?"

"Not fill out so much as update one already in your personnel file," the captain corrected him as she pushed the form in question across the desk at him. "Verify and initial the addresses for your next of kin, et cetera."

Carter looked at her uncertainly as he said, "Uh, Captain, I just filled these out two months ago."

"I know, but I'm having everyone do this across the board, so I can tell the bureaucrats uptown that everyone's up to date. Just initial by each entry, and they'll know you saw it and verified it. And while we're alone in here, are some people still bugging you with president jokes?"

Carter shook his head. "Not really… well, somebody left a bag of peanuts on my desk, but I think that was just someone forgetting what they'd grabbed out of the vending machine." He grinned at her as he added, "That was a good idea of yours, telling 'em that I've heard Jimmy Carter jokes since I was six and they'd have to work a lot harder to actually get to me. I think the idea of actually having to work at their teasing, made it not much fun anymore."

"Glad to hear it. Patowski and Miller are good cops, despite their love of breaking in the rookies, and I'd rather not officially notice their behavior when I don't have to," the captain said. "By the way, I heard that the union finally settled their differences with Management, and the strike is over as of tomorrow. We'll have workers upstairs in the clocktower again on Monday."

Carter lost his smile as he stared at her. "Monday?"

Maria Chavez stopped twiddling with her pen, but did not let herself smile. Instead, she said, "Yes, Monday. But it shouldn't bother you and your coworkers; they're working only the day shift."

"The day shift," Carter repeated to himself, his eyes filled with dismay. Then he came back to his surroundings with a start, and shoved the form back across the desk at her. "Thanks, Captain, anything else?"

"No, just send your buddy Davis in here next," the captain said as she tucked the form back in his personnel file. Carter said he would do so, as he walked out; walking very fast indeed.

Instead of staying behind her desk, as she'd done after dismissing her other visitors that night, the captain got up and carefully peeked through the Venetian blinds of her office, at the desks in the corner designated for the GTF. And she saw Carter leaning over Davis's desk, talking rapidly into his friend's ear while looking around worriedly.

"Both of you in on it, hm? …Someday, kid, I'm going to clean you out at the poker table," Maria Chavez said to herself with satisfaction. "In the meantime, you just get our uninvited guest up there well away, before those construction workers arrive." Then she hurriedly sat down at her desk again and found Davis's personnel file.

It hadn't been hard to think up a way to get all her suspects into her office, one at a time but relaxed and not expecting trouble; there was always some paperwork ritual to be observed. Sometimes she thought the bureaucrats got paid by the pounds of paperwork they generated, but they did have their uses on occasion.

Of course, now that she'd started the charade she had to finish it, or someone might ask questions; particularly since so far she'd only had the GTF in … including Elisa Maza, about whom the rumors concerning her personal life were flying thick and fast. (Maria could have told the detective that accepting and wearing a wedding ring from her lover was a big mistake, but she hadn't exactly been asked for her opinion.) But a few more hours of just observing her people check their files wouldn't be too painful, and the personnel forms were probably due for updating anyway.

"Plausible deniability," she muttered to herself just before Davis came in, trying not to look worried. That had been her private catch-phrase for quite some time now, and she suspected she'd be using it for some time yet.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After updating his personnel file, Matt had returned to his desk and resumed his own paperwork. A few minutes later he was dimly aware of his two rookies being perturbed about something, but he wasn't really paying attention to them. Instead, he was scrutinizing the report on his desk, one that he really had no business having; the case had been turned over to Homicide, but he'd managed to acquire a copy of it.

A few hours earlier, three bodies tied to weights had been pulled out of the Hudson River by the warehouse docks. The divers had been acting on an anonymous tip that had reported seeing corpses being tossed into the river at that point a few weeks ago, by "four guys dressed in really dark clothing, and they were all wearing something over their faces; like ski masks only kinda loose, like executioner hoods or something. They tossed in seven, maybe eight bodies; I'm not sure about the eighth guy, thought I heard a double splash once. Look, I gotta go; somebody's coming." (end transcript)

After finding three bodies relatively quickly, the divers were continuing the search for the other four (or five) corpses, while the others had been taken to the morgue. The bodies had been nibbled on by the fish and other marine life, and what was left had already started decomposing, but the cause of death was clear; all three had died of bullet wounds, fatal shots in either the head or chest. The coroner had already fished two slugs from a Glock 9mm out of the first victim, but none of the three men had been identified yet.

Matt Bluestone knew the identity of the 'anonymous tipster' who'd called in that report. Xanatos had already discreetly told him of his intentions to do so, at the request of Anne Marsden, the nanny for the Xanatos family. Anne had asked that the bodies be discovered by authorities, so their families wouldn't be kept wondering what had happened to them. Anne had wondered for nearly two years what had happened to her husband Philip Marsden, who had been one of those murdered by Demona during the Lost Nights, and knew how hellish that uncertainty could be.

Matt knew Anne was right; always waiting and never knowing could be hell on a family. But he still thought the timing for the revelation was wrong; whether one celebrated Hanukkah or Christmas, this was supposed to be a season of hope, and eight families were going to lose all hope that their loved ones were still alive somewhere.

That is, they'd learn that their men were dead as soon as Matt could figure out how to get the coroner to positively identify those bodies as the Quarrymen that had gone missing the Monday after Thanksgiving. After Delilah had shot them all with the squad leader's own gun, in revenge for the murder of Brentwood, the Labyrinth dwellers had stripped the corpses of their Quarrymen uniforms before weighting them down and tossing them into the river. And while two of the men killed had their fingerprints on file for criminal records, there weren't any fingerprints left to lift from the corpses found so far; marine creatures on the river bottom had already eaten away the fingertips.

The corpses would probably have to be identified by dental records, but Matt couldn't just drop off eight sets of dental records on the coroner's desk without getting a lot of inconvenient questions in return. So he leafed through the descriptions and photos of the missing men in the GTF's case files—by the captain's order, the GTF got copies of all case files that were known to involve the Quarrymen, no matter which department the cases properly belonged to-- hoping to find at least one identifying marker that would be apt to remain after two weeks underwater with the fishies. Amputations or physical deformities like clubfoot or polydactyly were always helpful in identifying bodies…

Nope, these men had all been physically normal. Three of them had been decorated with tattoos, but with simple, common stuff like skulls and dagger-skewered hearts. No imagination, this lot. Not even any convenient stylized Q's for Quarrymen—c'mon, guys, where's the pack loyalty? In the past six weeks the precinct had already booked four men with sledgehammer-detailed Q's emblazoned on their chests or biceps, most of them brought in for destroying public property (stone statues, of course.)

Matt set the folder aside with a sigh, then discreetly fished out of his desk the notes he'd taken from the Labyrinth folks on the incident. The last man to die, the one killed by Claw instead of Delilah, had died when his Quarryhammer had exploded on him after being hit by a mutate-generated electrical bolt. They had plenty of Quarryhammers in the evidence locker now for forensic analysis; if they fished the blown-up guy out of the water, finding pieces of Quarryhammer shrapnel inside him could clue in the coroner and the Homicide detectives that they were looking at the Quarrymen still missing, after the last batch of missing men had turned up at Bellevue (undergoing psychiatric evaluation, with no memories of what had happened to them or how they'd ended up there six weeks after disappearing, thanks to Puck.)

Once the men were identified, there would be an investigation into who had killed them. The Labyrinth's report was that Brentwood had managed to give a few of the men minor wounds before they'd killed him, but since the fatal wounds had all been delivered by man-made weapons instead of claws, and the 'anonymous tipster' had described perpetrators dressed in clothing remarkably similar to the Quarrymen's own uniforms, maybe the trail would be even more muddied, with nothing leading back to the gargoyles themselves.

If, could, maybe… Matt shook his head and tucked the notes away again. There were far too many variables involved, and no way for him to steer the investigation in the direction he and Xanatos wanted it to go without risking exposure. The dice had been set rolling; now the results were up to Lady Luck, and lately she didn't seem to be as fond of Xanatos as she used to be. They'd just have to wait and see…

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

"I have to leave?" Heinrich could not keep the dismay out of his voice.

"Well, not leave the city; just your hideout here!" his friend James Carter hastened to reassure him. "This isn't my idea, really; there are going to be people working up here again on Monday, restoring what the bombs destroyed. If they catch you here during the day, you'll wake up strapped to an examining table in a lab—IF they let you wake up at all!"

"But—where will I perch? Where is it safe for me to sleep?" Heinrich knew he sounded pathetic, but right that moment he felt pathetic; not far from panic, or tears. He'd slept away from home on other occasions in past decades, hiding inside attics or behind chimneys when he'd been wounded or delayed while transporting refugees over the Berlin Wall, but he'd always kept his hopes up with the knowledge that he'd be home safe in just another night. While traveling to America in the bowels of a ship, he'd kept his spirits up with writing, and with constant reminders that soon he'd find other gargoyles like himself, and would surely find a warm welcome with them. But now, to be evicted from the tower the other gargoyles had lived in, to have no safe home to go to… to be homeless in this strange country, homeless and alone

"Uh, well…" Carter looked pleadingly at Davis. "You sure he can't stay with you?"

Davis shook his head regretfully. "Not with the kind of neighbors I've got. The Stevensons are always asking me what sort of progress the police are making in ending 'the gargoyle menace'—in fact, I'm pretty sure Roger Stevenson's a member of the Quarrymen now--and the Burkehalters are always inviting themselves over with cookies and stuff to eat, trying to get me interested in one of their daughters. He'd be discovered for sure."

"And I live in a basement apartment with windows that don't open," Carter told Heinrich apologetically. "There'd be no way for you to get in or out without attracting attention."

"What about that guy Vinnie that you told us about; the one who took care of you after you got shot by the Quarrymen?" Davis asked.

Heinrich had been meaning to go visit Vinnie anyway, to thank the man again for saving him and to find out if he'd been able to get in touch with his boss who was currently overseas. (It was still hard to believe in the existence of someone who could be a gargoyle at night and a human in the daytime, but Vinnie had sworn he'd seen the transformation with his own eyes.) He knew it would be a huge imposition to go over now and ask if he could stay with Vinnie and Leon again, and for more than one night, but he was desperate.

But when he landed on the roof across the street from Vinnie's apartment and looked at the window across the alley, he saw what appeared to be a small party in full swing. There were two men next to the closed window, neither of them Vinnie or Leon, and a woman that both men were trying to talk to, all three with drinks in their hands. Glimpses past the trio into the room revealed even more people milling about, and that muffled music he could hear was coming from that direction.

He couldn't approach them while anyone else was in the apartment, that was for certain. With his luck, the strangers were Quarrymen who'd left their hammers in the cars, or at best people who feared gargoyles and would scream for the Quarrymen as soon as he knocked on the window. His choices were to either sit there on the roof and wait for everyone to leave, which might take hours, and even then Vinnie and Leon might well refuse to give him shelter for more than one day… or he could go find some other safe place to stay.

There had been a few spots that he'd found while searching for the gargoyles; places where he'd found stone shards, and other evidence that strongly suggested a gargoyle had safely spent the day there. The closest one that he could recall was just a few blocks away from Vinnie and Leon's apartment, so he grabbed his luggage again and headed in that direction.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

At that moment, inside the apartment, Vinnie and Leon were regaling some members of the P.I.T. with the story of how Heinrich had come to stay with them for one night and part of the next. The night after meeting Heinrich, Leon had brought home a flyer for the P.I.T. and suggested to Vinnie that they go to a meeting; one thing had led to another, and now they were hosting a Friday night mixer (munchies provided, but BYOB) for 'friends of the gargoyles.'

Vinnie was careful to never say anything about Dominique Destine's secret; he agreed with what she'd said before going to Japan, that the business world just wasn't ready for gargoyles as business leaders. And if the company he worked for got into financial trouble due to fallout from the gargoyle scare, 'last hired, first fired'; he'd be one of the first folks out on the streets looking for work. But he was happy to let Maddie Printemps and the other P.I.T. members know about Heinrich, as well as about a gargoyle clan living somewhere in Japan and one that used to live in Mexico.

"Can you contact Heinrich and ask him to come to our next meeting?" Maddie asked eagerly.

"I could try, anyway," Vinnie said modestly. For some reason, he'd been holding back exactly where Heinrich could be found, so they could ask him themselves; in the ruined clocktower above the 23rd Precinct. Maybe it was the little thrill of power, knowing these people wanted something only he could provide right now, since the gargoyles that they knew hadn't been around to the last few meetings.

Vinnie didn't have fond memories of the last time he'd been inside a police station. That was the night he'd been arrested for drunken driving, because he'd earnestly told a police officer that no, he hadn't wrecked his motorcycle by accident; a green winged monster had taken it from him and wrecked it! But that was then, and this time would be totally different. He'd be walking in without handcuffs on, for one thing. Though before he went there, he should think of a good reason to ask to see two cops named James Carter and John Davis, when he'd never spoken to or laid eyes on either of them before.

Well, he'd think of something this weekend, no doubt. And then he'd go in on Monday night, discreetly meet with Heinrich's cop friends and convince them he really was friends with Heinrich, so they'd show him whatever secret passage they used to get up to the clocktower. Yeah, Monday would be good; it's not like there was any need to rush over there and talk to Heinrich, after all.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

The building Heinrich chose to perch on that night was an old theater house; a building with an exterior liberally covered with stone figures and carvings, including stone gargoyles spaced all along the edges of the roof. They were all considerably smaller than Heinrich, about 2/3 his size; not much bigger than his nephew Gregor, really. But if he hunkered down when dawn came, he should blend right in. Who'd notice just one more statue on the roof?

It didn't appear that anyone had ever noticed extra statues there before; he saw enough stone shards and gravel on the rooftop for nearly a week's worth of waking from stone sleep. It had been a safe place for gargoyles to roost before, so it would do for him for a while. There was even a dry covered spot to stow his luggage; the housing for what was probably an air conditioning unit. It would do for now, he told himself firmly. He had certainly stayed in worse spots before in his life, though never for more than one night. And it was far better than waking up in a laboratory, or a cage…

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

A gilded cage, that's what he was in. A cage gilded with fine furnishings and the latest in scientific achievements, but it was still a cage. What was it about gargoyles, that they kept putting him in cages?

Anton Sevarius sighed forlornly as he turned Barbara Streisand on the stereo down low instead of up higher. Tonight, this caged bird didn't feel like singing. Not after nearly four months of being stuck down here…

He really should have taken his money and run for South America—or better yet, caught a jet for Switzerland; they really did make the finest chocolate—as soon as Thailog had taken his group of cloned gargoyles out to Coney Island, staging them there for a showdown with Goliath's clan. Considering how it had taken three full nights for Thailog to teach those clones how to glide and the utter basics of combat, Sevarius should have known it would all end in tears.

But no, he'd stayed in his laboratory, with his other experiments still underway. Including the other clone he'd secretly made, a sister to Delilah. After watching Thailog romp with Delilah in the back room (if Thailog had been aware of the security cameras discreetly mounted in the ceiling, he either hadn't cared or had decided to put on a show for them), all the creative uses the gargoyle businessman had found for his sex toy, Sevarius had decided he really had to have one of those for himself.

Though his Salome would be considerably different from Delilah, with a 75/25 human mix instead of a 25/75 mix like her sister had. Delilah was far more gargoyle than human, her five-fingered hands really the only clear indication of human blood in her; she had the typical sharp talons, oversized feet, tail and wings of a gargoyle. Sevarius had decided that sharp talons on a sex slave were definitely out, wings weren't much of a benefit for a man somewhat afraid of heights, and oversized feet… just not in style, dear. But the prehensile tail, now that was interesting. And since he'd always been a night owl by nature, the idea of having a sex toy who'd be available all night but still and silent all day, and never hogged the blankets either, appealed to him greatly.

So he'd quietly set about creating Salome in the same microsurgical unit he'd started the other clones in, while Thailog was whipping his little army into shape. And just minutes after the flock had left the lab for Coney Island, he'd transferred Salome's embryo into a maturation vat. Since he'd draped dropcloths over all the vats as soon as the clones had emerged from them, covering them so they wouldn't need dusting just as he covered most unused lab equipment, that vat's reactivation and occupation wasn't immediately noticeable. He'd been counting on Thailog being too busy dealing with Demona and his little cloned clan to notice anything for at least a week, and by then he'd have grown Salome to infant stage; stable enough to transfer to the maturation vat he'd been building at home in his off hours.

But just before dawn that night, someone had come striding back into the laboratory—and it hadn't been Thailog. Instead, it had been Demona, her primitive garments made even more primitive by being partly burned off her. A Demona who was clearly in a killing mood.

It was only Anton's frantic babbling that he'd made Delilah on Thailog's orders, and that he'd thought Demona had known about the hybrid from the start—why else would the mosquito-bot have brought him a payload of Elisa Maza's genetic material, if Demona hadn't released it to collect just that?—that had spared him from being ripped apart on the spot.

Demona had snarled that she'd never released the mosquito-bot while Elisa had been there, but then had looked uncertain for a moment, muttered half under her breath 'unless… that time she brought Broadway a snack…' then released her grip on his shirt. He'd hurriedly back off a few steps, grateful that he'd already deactivated and boxed up the extra mosquito-bot that he'd created for Thailog, which that gargoyle had personally conveyed to Elisa's apartment.

But after releasing him, Demona had snarled, "No. More. Clones!" and she'd set about systematically destroying all the maturation vats. Including the one poor little Salome had been in, while he could only stand there and watch. Oh, the humanity...

He really should have cut his losses and run right then. Emptied his bank accounts and caught the first flight out to anywhere else. But instead, he'd stayed in his laboratory with the other experiments still underway, like the cyborg mice. He'd really been hoping to create white mice that could be slipped into the laboratories of other scientists and used to spy on them, with implanted video cameras and audio pickups too small and well-camouflaged to be detected during a standard lab autopsy. Scientific research was fun, but stealing someone else's research to incorporate into your own was a real time-saver.

He'd stayed, and caught a few hours of sleep on the cot he always kept in the back, resolving to start discreetly moving the experiments that could be transported, in the next afternoon's supplies delivery. He planned to offer the driver a few hundred bucks cash to take a large package out instead of in, to be dropped off on his doorstep out in Queens. Four or five such deliveries, and he'd be ready to depart.

That's what he'd been planning, but when he'd awoken that afternoon, he'd discovered that Dominique Destine had made other plans for him. He'd been shaken awake by a burly stranger while another one waited beside the door, and the two of them had dragged him out to where Dominique Destine was waiting.

"Meet your two security escorts, Doctor," she'd said with a smile that was not at all friendly. "They're going to go with you everywhere you go. Of course, they're for my security, not yours. They're also going to be watching everything you do from now on, and reporting to me if you do anything suspicious. And yes, they will know if you do anything suspicious. Landry here has a master's degree in Chemistry, and he would have been a fine scientist if not for having used his knowledge to cold-bloodedly murder a woman who foolishly spurned his advances. And Mr. Stiger… well, let's just keep his background a secret for now."

And the two gentlemen had accompanied him out to his house, to gather up a week's worth of clothing and toiletries before returning to the Nightstone building. Dominique Destine had explained that she was forcefully renegotiating his contract with Nightstone. "You see, Doctor, I now consider you a security risk. Fortunately for you, you are a useful security risk. So long as you remain useful to me, I will fund your experiments and you shall live as sumptuous a life as can be provided within four walls… you'll be allowed to go home on the weekends, of course, but you'll have housemates now. And that's how you shall live, so long as you remain useful to me. When you are no longer useful… I will terminate your employment." She didn't have to say what else she would terminate; he got the message loud and clear.

And that's how he had lived from that day on. Landry and Stiger had become part of a rotating staff of six men, who never gave him a minute's privacy; they even monitored the security camera mounted in the bathroom. On weekends, two or three of them always accompanied him home, which now had thick wire mesh over every window and doors that locked from the outside only, to prevent escape.

True to her word, Dominique Destine had turned that Spartan back room with a cot into proper living quarters; he now had a full-sized bed with comfortable bedding, a television hooked up to cable and HBO, an excellent stereo system with most of his CD collection from home, and even aromatherapy candles. And his laboratory now had even more advanced equipment than before. Dominique had even approved of and given further funding to the spy-mice project, as well as the programmable-piranha project he'd thought up since then.

All in all, his living situation now was a thousand times better than the few days he'd spent in that abandoned and hideously rundown lab that Goliath had kept him in, while forcing him to work on a cure for the mutates. (It really was a shame that none of the mutates had tried the formula while he was there in the room. He would have enjoyed watching the immediate chaos that would have ensued, for just a second or two before making his escape in the confusion.) But for all its gilding, it was still a cage.

And lately he'd become worried about his continuing usefulness. Dominique Destine had been delighted when he'd created the CV-1000 carrier virus for her, though he'd never found out what use she'd planned to put it to. (Of course, he had taken the precaution to code his own genome into its trigger, so whatever it bonded with would become inactive if inhaled or ingested into his own system. Mama Sevarius hadn't raised any idiots.)

But the latest project she'd assigned to him was giving him problems. Soon after he'd handed over the CV-1000, Dominique Destine had unexpectedly left for Paris, and stayed there for nearly a month. But she hadn't rescinded any of the orders to his guards, and they kept him under the usual close watch until she'd returned. And the day after she'd returned, Dominique Destine had come down to the laboratory carrying a few scraps of debris as if they were more precious than diamonds. She'd handed over an inch-long piece of stone that appeared to have been knocked off a small statue, and a tiny sliver of crystal no bigger than a 1/10th –carat diamond, and told him, "Make them grow."

"I-I beg your pardon, dear lady?" he'd stammered.

"You cloned gargoyles and grew them into maturity in two months instead of fifty years, Doctor. Make these grow, or reproduce others from them that can be made to grow. Preferably both the stone and the crystal, but in particular the crystal, which came from the same source. Make them grow… and you'll continue to be useful to me."

And he'd been doing his best to comply ever since, but success was eluding him for once. Spectrographic analysis of the stone revealed it to be made of something similar to the stone shed by gargoyles upon waking… but it was stone, not flesh, and he needed flesh cell samples in order to culture or clone more of them. And the crystal… it utterly defied spectrographic analysis or anything else he used to study it. And no matter what nutrient baths he soaked them in or mild stimulating electrical currents he ran through them, both fragments stubbornly refused to grow. Thankfully, Dominique Destine had left the country again a few weeks ago, so hadn't received his for-her-eyes-only reports on progress, or lack thereof. But sooner or later, Demona would return…

Maybe he should just let Demona kill him, he thought gloomily. It wasn't like he hadn't died before; he'd gone through two clone bodies in just the last two years, both times thanks to the gargoyles. Dying was extremely painful and unpleasant, but each time the braintape inside his skull that recorded all his memories had been ejected, and traveled to the secret laboratory he kept in the Catskills, to be implanted into the next clone that was ready to be activated.

But if she killed him down here in the laboratory, which had filters and screens in the air ducts, more of that damnably thick wire mesh over the high-set windows and guards at every door, it was doubtful that the braintape would be able to escape. In fact, it was likely that if Demona saw anything fleeing his skull after she killed him, she'd pursue it as automatically as a cat chased a rolling ball of yarn. If she caught the braintape and destroyed it, that would be the end of Anton Sevarius forever. And if she caught the braintape, figured out what it was and decided to play with it…

Sevarius shivered, and turned back to Experiment # 574 on the crystal fragment. Demona had been so confident that the crystal could be made to grow, it must be possible somehow. And he was the greatest scientist that had ever lived; surely he'd be able to figure it out…

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After stowing his luggage at the new perch, Heinrich had spent the next few hours cruising the city, searching for gargoyles once more. He came back in discouragement well before dawn, then spent some time writing in his journal, and working on another 'Klein-Johannes Und Igor' story for Gregor; writing children's fantasy stories kept his mind off his worries.

What had happened to the native clan? Vinnie had said there should be at least three other gargoyles left in the city after the Japanese gargoyle named Yama took the Mexican family and Dominique Destine with him to Ishimura. Vinnie had seen or encountered three other gargoyles over the years, who were no doubt members of the clan that the human-by-day gargoyle had been exiled from after inadvertently causing a human's death. After all these weeks of searching, Heinrich should have seen at least one member of that clan by now…

When sunrise came, Heinrich stowed all his belongings again, then hunkered down to appear the same height as the stone gargoyle statues on the roof. As always, he prayed just before sunrise and stone sleep, that tomorrow night would be better and he would find other gargoyles at last.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

The afternoon sun was low in the sky when Elisa Maza went up to the castle above the Aerie Building where the Xanatos family lived. She gave a civil greeting to David Xanatos, but told him she was really there to see Owen Burnett. "Do tell," Xanatos said with a raised eyebrow. "About what, may I ask?"

"(sigh) Some magical assistance, if we can get it," Elisa admitted, looking at the floor while stuffing her hands in her pockets. Over the past two years she'd developed an active dislike of magic, but she knew that sometimes the best way to fight fire was with another fire.

"Oh, really!" Xanatos sounded delightedly amused. "Well, since his powers are constrained to teaching or protecting Alexander, there are limits to how useful Puck may be to you. Alexander is probably too young to learn cross-species fertility spells. But we may--"

"What? No, no! Not that kind of help!" Elisa said frantically, her hands thrust up as if to ward off the very thought. "I was thinking about a tracing or tracking spell of some sort. Goliath and I are worried about a loose end from that big fight with Demona at St. Damien's Cathedral. At first we'd thought it was just a very minor loose end, but it may turn out to be a major one…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After Owen was briefed on the Praying Gargoyle's capabilities, and Goliath's worries about science and sorcery being used together again to restore the stature in months instead of decades, the majordomo pursed his lips in thought. "That is indeed a worrisome possibility. However, the Puck will not be able to assist you in determining the location of the fragments of the Praying Gargoyle." He shook his head. "In all my years and travels, I have never encountered the Praying Gargoyle, and so have not witnessed its… its magical signature, or fingerprints, if you will. Without that knowledge, the only effective tracking spell that Alexander would be ready to learn in even a year's time would require having a small piece of the statue already on hand; using that fragment to call to the rest of its parts."

"Wonderful," Elisa sighed. "Just what we don't have, thanks to not tidying up after ourselves after the fight."

"Spilt milk, detective," Xanatos chided her. "And in assuming that Demona has the fragments, you're excluding other possibilities. Demona was out of the country for over three weeks after that fight; plenty of time for someone else to come in and take the fragments away."

"It wasn't the police; I've been through the reports and the evidence lockers with a fine-toothed comb, and come up with nothing," Elisa informed him. "Who else would have done it?"

"Perhaps the same people who removed the Hunters' hovership from the ruins," Owen said blandly, adjusting his glasses. "Or hadn't you noticed the rather large craft lodged in one side of the cathedral when you arrived there, and left again in such a hurry?"

"The hovership?" Elisa looked blank for a moment, then smacked herself in the forehead. "I can't believe I forgot that! So who hauled that away? …No, don't tell me, let me guess. Those bloody Illuminati you're in league with?"

"And the detective wins the kewpie doll," Xanatos quipped. "But to be more accurate, it's one particular member of the Illuminati who took the hovership. Specifically, Oliver Grimm."

Elisa eyed him as she said, "The same Grimm that you told me about, the semi-secret bankroller for the Quarrymen?" She shook her head. "Great. So now what, are we going to be seeing that thing in the skies over Manhattan again, this time packed to the gunnels with Quarrymen?"

"Not any time soon. It's in a hangar on a private airfield out on Long Island, one that Grimm is leasing from another Illuminati member, and I did manage to plant a mole in the maintenance crew that was hired to fix the hovership after the damage it sustained when the Hunters crashed it right into the cathedral. Severe structural damage, from the reports I've read; it won't fly again without replacing nearly a third of the frame. And somehow, all the nifty data on gargoyles that had been in the computers on board was wiped out, before Grimm could extract any of it; it must have been damaged beyond any hope of salvage by a massive electrical surge during the crash. Or possibly by a powerful degaussing wand being waved over every computer element on board, though of course there's no way that could have happened," Xanatos concluded with a shrug.

Elisa grinned. "Sometimes, I could almost like you."

"Now, now; I'm a happily married man," he said with a pious look that fooled no one. "But back to the Praying Gargoyle… if the Hunters had acquired some knowledge of its capabilities over their centuries of hunting Demona, then Oliver Grimm now knows about it as well. I make no guarantees about being able to determine whether or not he now holds the fragments; that no-direct-aggression pact the Illuminati have us both under includes no direct spying on his activities. I was able to get around that with the hovership only because he doesn't actually own the airfield it's on, and he contracted the maintenance team through a third party. But I'll make what inquiries I can, about the Quarrymen and about Nightstone, since Demona is actually the most likely person to be holding them. But now if you'll excuse us, we do still have a business to run…"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

"…Listen, one of you Quarrymen guys came by here three weeks ago; his name was Jon Castaway. And he told me that there'd be a cash reward for me if I ever saw any gargoyles perching on the building across the street from where I live, and reported them so you folks could get 'em before sunset. I just got home from work, and I'm counting one extra statue up there today that wasn't there yesterday. And it ain't sunset yet; there's still time to get him… I'll tell you where I live and which building I'm looking at, after you get Mr. Castaway on the phone and he promises to deliver my money!"

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Sunset came, and Heinrich awoke as he always did, stretching and scattering stone shards and gravel everywhere. And with a rumbling stomach; he'd been so upset over having to leave the precinct last night that he'd hardly eaten anything. But a day's sleep had improved his mood, and restored his appetite as well.

Carter and Davis had helpfully brought him two sacks full of groceries, filling his bags again before he'd left the clocktower for good, so he dragged his luggage out of the air conditioning unit and unzipped them. And paused, his hand inside one bag, as he heard a high-pitched droning coming from somewhere behind him. Was that…

Whirrr-spang!- as a bullet whizzed inches past his head and ricocheted off the rooftop.

"Scheiße!" Heinrich whipped around to see two men on hovercycles approaching at a fast clip. Quarrymen again!

He grabbed his bags and flipped backwards, diving headfirst off the roof as another shot whizzed past him. Gravity welcomed him, and he dropped two stories before snapping his wings out hard and angled just so. This sort of maneuver hurt like hell, but he ignored the pain radiating from his wings to his entire body as he caught air and used the momentum from his fall to send him careening off to the right. The move spilled two water bottles out of his open bag, falling to shatter on the street below him.

He pulled his bags up against his chest to reduce drag as he glided away, the Quarrymen shouting behind him as they followed. More shots, which thankfully missed him as he desperately jinked right and left in flight, before turning down the first alley he came to. An alley that was unexpectedly strewn with empty clotheslines running between buildings; he nearly snagged a line, but avoided it by barely an inch as he dove through, heading for the far side of the alley

The Quarrymen behind him weren't quite so skilled at dodging unexpected obstacles. One of them pulled up in time to dodge the highest line, but the other one flew right through a clothesline, which snapped and wrapped around his hovercycle. And tangled into something crucial; his hovercycle started flying erratically, and the rider screamed as he crashed into the side of a building.

Hearing the screams and crash behind him as he glided away, Heinrich couldn't help giving a savage grin. That was one less opponent chasing him! And then he got an idea…

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

"Caldwell!" Morris the Quarryman shouted as he saw his partner crash into the side of the building. The hovercycle tumbled to the street to crash and explode, flames bursting out of the wreckage, but somehow, probably by divine luck, Caldwell's safety belt snapped in mid-fall and he tumbled off the cycle onto a fire escape three stories up.

Caldwell lay on the fire escape, unmoving, and Morris hovered there for a few moments, uncertain as to what he should do next. His partner needed help, probably medical help and maybe even serious medical help… but that bastard gargoyle was getting away! Morris was dead certain that it was the same gargoyle that had eluded them last week. He decided that Caldwell would understand, as he revved the engines and hit the controls to move the hovercycle forward again. He allowed himself fifteen minutes, maybe twenty, and then he'd come back for Caldwell; hopefully with the gargoyle's carcass thrown over the back as a trophy. The beast was carrying some sort of bags with it, slowing it down in flight; this time it wouldn't get away!

He'd glimpsed the gargoyle dodging to the left as it flew out the other end of the alley, while Caldwell had been crashing. So he did the same, whipping into a hard left turn as he sped out of the alley—

And just had time to register that something was heading straight for him before it hit, and his world filled with pain before going dark.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Standing behind a chimney with another water bottle ready in his hand, Heinrich grinned savagely as his first throw scored a direct hit. The plastic bottle shattered on impact, spilling water and plastic shards everywhere. But it had easily weighed a kilo with the water filling it, and nobody could shrug off an impact like that. The Quarryman was rocked back in his saddle, then sagged in it unconscious as his hovercycle sped on past.

Heinrich grabbed his bags again, and dove off the roof in the other direction. It wasn't worth the risk of going after the hovercycle, to ensure it came down safely instead of crashing. If the Quarryman on it died, well, he wouldn't have been hit if he hadn't decided to keep up the chase. If a hunter wasn't prepared for his quarry to turn on him, that was just too bad for the hunter!

But he had to find another place to perch. It was obvious that the place he'd chosen last night wasn't safe anymore. He'd been a fool not to realize that the Quarrymen must have learned by now to recognize the shards and gravel a gargoyle shed upon waking, and had also pegged that rooftop some time ago as an occasional gargoyle perch. They must have had people keeping watch on it and on other probable perches, just hoping for an unwary gargoyle to come again and make itself an easy target during the day. He'd actually been lucky for once; lucky that they hadn't arrived any sooner!

But he already had another location in mind. There were places in Central Park that might make suitable perches, and with luck those places would be too isolated for Quarrymen to have someone constantly keeping watch on them. One of those places was the play-castle he'd seen, built onto the side of a hill, that his tourist guide called Belvedere Castle. In the summers it was reportedly a popular tourist attraction, its high vantage point offering an excellent view of the park, but in mid-winter surely it would be too cold for anyone to visit.

Soon he was backwinging to a gentle landing on top of the castle, then carefully breaking the padlock on the door to the uppermost turret. He stepped inside, nodding to himself; it should be a good place to stay. The glassless windows in this turret would let sunlight through, but if he sat down or crouched before going to sleep, no one would be apt to see him through those same windows.

He opened his bags again, to get out and turn on the two-way radio that Carter and Davis had given him, so they could keep in touch with him about gargoyle sightings. …Where was the radio? He rummaged through the two large bags with increasing worry, then finally sat back with a groan. The radio was gone! It must have fallen out of his open bag along with those water bottles while he was fleeing. Zum Teufel noch mal! So eine gottverdamme Scheiße! Now he'd lost his only means of keeping in contact with his friends!

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Heinrich was unaware that he'd been observed on his approach to Belvedere castle, though not by Quarrymen. Instead, he'd been observed by three cloaked figures, bundled up against the cold night; one large and towering, one of medium height, and one the size of a young child. The trio had been exploring the lower part of the castle when the smallest one had glanced out the window, then pointed to the luggage-laden figure approaching in midair while tugging on the largest one's sleeve.

While Heinrich was still searching for his radio, the family of cloaked figures quietly snuck out of the castle. Keeping to the shadows cast by trees, they made their way to a large culvert in the park and quietly slipped inside.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

The Labyrinth, home to many of the homeless in New York, has a few young children living there with their parents. Now that Talon has loosely organized their society with the aid of the other mutates and several responsible adults, those children have a bedtime; they must be in bed by ten p.m. in order to be ready for their homeschooling lessons with Ruth the next morning.

Ten p.m. is a much later bedtime than normal for children less than 8 years old, but there'd been too much protesting when it had originally been set much earlier. Not only from the children, but from their playmates the gargoyle clones.

Recently, the gargoyles hadn't been much interested in playing; the whole Labyrinth had been filled with gloom at the sudden and violent death of Brentwood. But young spirits aren't depressed forever, and evening playtime was gradually returning to the Labyrinth.

Someone had scavenged and brought down a pair of jump ropes last week, and the twins Jody and Judy Jackson had been trying to teach their gargoyle friends how to play some jump rope games. With limited success; the gargoyles were good at jumping, but frequently forgot to get their tails up out of the way as well, and got them tangled in the ropes more often than not. So tonight, Malibu was content to hold one end of the ropes while Jody held the other and Judy jumped Double Dutch.

Occupied with their play, neither Jody nor Judy noticed a faint tapping sound echoing through the corridor; tapping coming from the length of pipe that ran along the ceiling, one of many that ran through the Labyrinth. But Malibu noticed, and cocked his head for a minute, listening; then he told Jody and Judy, "I got to go. Play later?"

"Where ya going?" Jody asked, but Malibu only shook his head in response, and asked again if they could play later. He couldn't say where he was going, because it was a secret; his secret friend had told him to not even tell other people that he had a secret, because then they'd be curious and try harder to find out.

Moments later he was loping quickly through one of the little-used corridors in the Labyrinth, one that led away from the residential area and into unknown territory. So far as Talon and the others knew, the only things of interest in that direction were more rat colonies; something most folks kept far away from, unless they were hunting the critters for the extra meat they provided.

When he was just past the edge of the Labyrinth as it was drawn on Talon's map, he stopped and tapped out a pattern on a pipe running along the wall, just as he had been taught. And a few minutes later, his secret friend came to see him.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After determinedly climbing out of the pit of despair he'd fallen into about losing the radio, Heinrich ate a light dinner, then picked up his journal. He'd been intending to write about his experiences so far that evening, when he heard a soft thump nearby; the sound of someone coming in for a controlled landing. Startled, he looked up to see—

A gargoyle! At long last, another of his kind! The face was odd, the gargoyle having a beak somewhat like a bird's beak, but there was no mistaking the wings and tail and three-fingered hands!

One of those hands was now waving shyly to him, while the lime-green gargoyle said, "Hi, my name Malibu. What your name?"

"H-Heinrich," he stammered, trembling with sheer joy and momentarily forgetting to speak in English. "Ich bin—I am Heinrich, and I am very, very happy to meet you!"

At that, Malibu smiled. "I happy to meet you too!"

"I am from Germany," Heinrich explained. "My family is there; a brother, sister, nephew… but no others. I came here to find more of our kind, and you are the first I have ever met!"

"Want to meet more?" Malibu asked. "I gots brothers and sister, and lots of friends too, in Labyrinth. Come on, I take you home so we can play!" as he beckoned to Heinrich, while hopping up onto the low wall.

Heinrich gladly left the castle and followed Malibu through the park, till he landed at a culvert opening. Malibu stepped inside the culvert and opened a gate, then looked back inquiringly at Heinrich.

And Heinrich hesitated before following him inside, suddenly filled with growing disquiet. "You live… underground?"

Malibu nodded and said, "Is nice place, honest! Lots of tunnels, room for running." After a pause, he admitted, "No room for gliding, but… no bad Quarrymen down here."

And that last comment was a good selling point, Heinrich had to admit. So he took a deep breath and followed Malibu inside the culvert, and down the tunnel… into the dark.

The darkness of underground is different than the darkness of nighttime. Gargoyles evolved for gliding in the night sky; their dark-adapted eyes excel at picking up the faint light of the moon and the distant stars. Even on the nights of the new moon, or nights when the sky is overcast with clouds that block the light of moon and stars, there is usually just enough light for them to see by.

But underground, there is no moon, there are no stars; the only light is that provided by the underground explorer, and occasionally by phosphorescent lichens. If no phosphorescence or man-made light sources are present, the darkness is total.

Heinrich had experienced that total darkness once before in his life… when he and his brother and sister had been buried alive, in the Dresden bombing raids that had annihilated their clan and destroyed their home.

But at that moment, he did not connect his growing unease with his childhood trauma. He only knew that he didn't like being underground; that it felt like the tunnel walls were getting narrower with every step. But Malibu was striding forward without hesitation, so he swallowed his fear and kept on going.

The tunnel was not completely dark; there were lights along the tunnel ceilings here and there. Wherever there was a pipe humming with city power cables running through it, someone had rigged up a fluorescent light bulb to lie alongside it, and the ambient electrical energy was enough to set the light to glowing faintly. That faint light would illuminate a tunnel just enough to guide people along to the next intersection, where hopefully there would be another light source to guide them further.

But roughly fifty yards into the underground journey, Malibu made another turn down a tunnel that did not have any illumination that Heinrich could see. Trying hard to ignore his hammering heart, Heinrich stepped into the tunnel…

And two seconds later, the Seventh Avenue Express subway train, which passes right under the northwest corner Central Park when running between the Central Park North and 96th Street stations on its route, thundered through a nearby tunnel.

Not that Heinrich knew that what he was hearing was a subway train, let alone its destination. All he knew was that it was loud, and getting LOUDER, and DARK and THE WALLS WERE COLLAPSING and he HAD TO GET OUT NOW!

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Malibu's first clue that something was wrong was when his new friend suddenly howled, a scream of sheer terror, and turned and ran back the way they'd come. Thinking that his new friend had seen a monster—like that invisible alligator that lived under his friend Bonnie's bed, only real!—he turned and ran back too, until after they'd passed into another tunnel. Malibu paused then, turning back to see if the monster was chasing them… but he didn't see or hear anything.

So why was his new friend still running? Malibu shrugged and went after him, but his new friend didn't stop until he was clear outside and in the park again. Malibu finally found him perched in a tree a few yards away from the culvert entrance, still gasping for air. "What happened? Did you see a monster?" Malibu asked.

"N…no, no monster," his new friend finally said. "I…I… It is too dark there, too far down! I cannot go down there!"

Malibu scratched his head. What was he to do? When little Bonnie couldn't get to sleep because she was afraid that the invisible alligator was going to crawl out and eat her, Talon would reach under the bed to grab the gator and scare it away. And lately he'd been letting Malibu and his brothers scare the gator away so Bonnie could sleep; it was a job they were proud of. But how could Malibu scare all the dark away for his new friend?

Talon would know what to do, Malibu decided. Talon was real smart, and always knew what to do. So he told his new friend, "You wait here; I go get Talon."

He went back inside the culvert, and after he got a few hundred yards down the tunnel, his secret friend came to see him. "What happened? I heard him running past, back outside…"

Malibu explained what he could, then went down to the Labyrinth to find Talon.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Talon was not having a good day.

A lot of the people in the Labyrinth were actually stable individuals who'd just had one too many bad breaks in their lives, and were living down there until, with help from Xanatos' employment specialists, they could get back on a firm financial footing again. But some people were genuinely mentally ill, and had to be handled with care.

Not because these mentally ill people were particularly dangerous to others; Talon made sure those sort didn't stay down in the Labyrinth long. But some people were upset to the point of crying or screaming at virtually any change in their lives, and others had at best an intermittent grasp on reality; either way, dealing with them without triggering an outburst of some sort took tremendous patience.

Today, Talon had just about used up his reservoir of patience. First, he'd had to deal with little Carina's insistence that an invisible friend had caused a lamp in the common room to break, and she'd had nothing to do with it. Then he'd had to break up a fight between two other residents, each of whom insisted that he was the President's special advisor and the other guy was lying and probably a commie spy. Then Odd Harold (no, no, just Harold; the leader of the Labyrinth couldn't use other people's nickname for him even if it fit too well) had sworn up and down that he'd seen a giant wooly mammoth stampede through the tunnels, and hadn't stopped shouting about it until Talon had finally gone with him and pointed out the distinct lack of mammoth tracks in the dust.

And now, Malibu was talking to him about an invisible friend he'd conjured up, another gargoyle who wouldn't come underground with him and was waiting for him in Central Park. Talon rubbed his head, feeling an ache behind his brow. After Carina had started going on about her invisible friend 'DD Fred', Maggie had read some child psychology books and had told him that children often conjured invisible friends to help them deal with emotions they had problems expressing.

The gargoyle clones in the Labyrinth hadn't been outside for weeks, since poor Brentwood had been murdered. After the first three nights of Labyrinth-wide lockdown, Talon hadn't ordered them to stay in the tunnels, but they hadn't come bugging him or Claw for outings again either, for which the mutates had been glad. Gliding was fun, but those Quarrymen were still out there and the clones just didn't have the originals' combat experience; taking them outside to stretch their wings was just asking for serious trouble. But gargoyles were made to glide, and it was obvious to Talon that Malibu had made an invisible friend to help him express his instinctual frustration at being grounded, despite the risks outside.

So he told Malibu, "Look, I know it's hard to stay underground all the time; gargoyles were made to glide. But it's just not safe to go out gliding whenever you want. Your new friend will just have to come down to the Labyrinth to live. And if not," he continued ruthlessly, "then you can't be friends with him anymore."

Malibu's face fell, and Talon felt a guilty twinge for being so harsh with him. But dammit, this 'invisible friend outside' business just had to stop, before all the clones started doing it! Later on he'd talk with Claw about arranging more outings, in the wee hours of the morning and perhaps out over the water instead of over the city. Short outings, just a half-hour or so in the air and far from most people; that should be relatively safe. But no invisible friends would be invited along, he thought firmly as Malibu trudged away with his tail dragging.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

After waiting up in the tree for what seemed like at least an hour, Heinrich was heartily embarrassed for his earlier behavior, and attempting to work his nerve up to try again—but every time he thought of that utter blackness his heart began pounding. He'd rather face a dozen flying Quarrymen and a full platoon of Soviet soldiers than go down there again!

Finally, his new friend Malibu came out, looking sad. And this time, a tall human figure wearing a cloak followed him out.

Malibu came over to the tree he was perched in, and he hopped down to the ground to meet him. And Malibu's mournful words struck him to the core: "Talon says that if you don't come down to Labyrinth, then we can't be friends."

Rejected by the native gargoyles! Even in his worst daymares Heinrich hadn't imagined this outcome. Rejected, for his verdammten phobia! Heinrich ducked his head and ground his teeth together, fighting to keep back the unmanly tears that threatened to spill out.

Then the cloaked human spoke. "I beg your pardon for the intrusion, but I may be able to help in some way. Please correct me if I'm wrong, but the fact that you were seen carrying luggage earlier means that you are looking for a shelter, a safe place to stay?"

"Yes," Heinrich admitted without looking up. "I had to leave the place where I slept; it will not be safe anymore. And I can not return to Germany right now; not until--" as he raised his head, then stopped in mid-sentence and stared.

The cloaked human had removed the hood of his cloak while speaking to Heinrich. And he wasn't actually human.

Then Malibu tapped him on the chest and whispered loudly, "Not supposed to stare. It's rude."

Heinrich blushed and apologized, while the leonine face gave what was probably a wry smile and said it was all right; he was used to people staring at first sight. "Though I will say that there are many who would find your appearance far stranger than mine… and now I must apologize; that was unkind of me. But back to the matter of shelter. Belvedere Castle is not a safe place for you to stay; even in the winter, it is regularly patrolled by park security. But I know of a man who is familiar with gargoyles, and who does not live belowground. Return to Belvedere Castle while I contact him, and I will return for you well before dawn, with news of where you may find shelter."

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Shivering and wrapping his arms around himself in the freezing night air, Father John Sullivan paced in front of the entrance to his church and repeatedly glanced up into the sky, in the direction of Central Park. Right after he'd been woken up and given the news, he'd gotten dressed, prepared a room in the church as best he could and went outside to wait for his guest. But he'd been waiting for nearly a half-hour now, and was wistfully thinking that he should have taken the time to prepare a thermos full of hot cocoa—yawnnnn—or hot coffee, before coming outside.

Finally, he glimpsed a winged shape gliding down through the darkness. The figure landed on the roof of the house across the street; his new guest was a cautious fellow. Probably with good reason, Father Sullivan mused to himself as he raised the large white handkerchief he'd been holding in his gloved hands and waved it vigorously in the air. The white kerchief was the 'safe to approach' sign he'd suggested while getting dressed over an hour ago, since even a gargoyle's sharp eyes might not notice his 'trademark,' the smiley-face eye patch he usually wore, from a distance.

The winged figure launched from the roof and glided across the street, to land gently right in front of him. The gray gargoyle with crimson hair bowed low to him and said gravely with a thick German accent, "I am pleased to meet you. I am Heinrich Dresden."

A gargoyle with a first and last name? The world never ran out of surprises to give him, he reflected as he said, "And I am Father John Sullivan." He shivered and added, "I am also quite cold, so let's get inside, shall we?"

They went inside the church, and the priest reheated a leftover casserole and made hot cocoa for himself and Heinrich in the church's little kitchen. During the preparations and while they ate, the German gargoyle told him how and why he'd come to America, and what had happened to him since his arrival. "Those Quarrymen are a nasty business indeed," Father Sullivan agreed. "Well, you'll be safe from discovery here. (Yawwwwn) Pardon me. Let me show you where you'll be sleeping…"

The church had a wardrobe room behind the choir loft, which the priest had made a few small and hurried changes to before going outside to wait for Heinrich's arrival. The first change was a hand-lettered sign hanging on the doorknob, stating CLOSED DUE TO WATER DAMAGE. "The first reasonable excuse I could think of," he explained as he opened the door and ushered Heinrich inside.

Once they were inside, he pointed out a few recently-added features: "The chair there should be sturdy enough for you to sit in. Here's a wastebasket, for depositing the evening's gravel in, and here are the whisk broom and dustpan. Here are some books from our little library, to pass the time while staying inside until it's safe to go out." He gestured at the two narrow stained-glass windows in the room as he said apologetically, "I'm afraid the windows don't open, so you'll have to go out through one of the doors, and that will have to wait each evening until every last parishioner has left. We have bible classes, choir practice and other activities nearly every night of the week, but the church is usually empty by nine p.m."

Heinrich eyed the door with a worried expression. "The doorknob; does it lock? People sometimes ignore signs…"

"No, it doesn't lock, but I'll be going to a hardware store tomorrow—today, that is, since it's after midnight now—to buy a new one; one that you can lock from the inside, and for which only I will have the key," John reassured him. "I'll admit I've never changed a doorknob before, but it shouldn't be that difficult, with the right tools. I'll also buy a sun lamp for you, since it's doubtful that you'll get enough of the sunlight you need through those small windows." Heinrich was intrigued at the thought of using a sun lamp instead of sleeping under a skylight, which he said he and his family had done for as long as they could remember.

John yawned again, apologized once more, then said ruefully, "I'm usually better company for gargoyles, but I hadn't been planning to talk to any of you today; I didn't sleep in or take a nap this afternoon. Would you care to settle in now, or would you like to go out and take in the night air again?"

"I will stay in now," Heinrich said, looking extremely depressed for a moment before plastering on a cordial smile. "Please, go to your rest. I have my own books and your books to read, and I can write as well. I will be fine."

"Well, then; I should be up just before dawn, so I'll stop in and see you then, all right? And I can't guarantee it, but I'll try to be in here for sunset as well," he said before covering a yawn once more, and going out the door to close it gently behind him. He checked to make sure the sign was still in place before heading down the stairs And now that he was alone, he let himself frown again with the outrage and anger he was still feeling; even more strongly now that he'd actually met Heinrich. How could Talon be so heartless?

While being briefed about the new gargoyle needing a place to stay, Father Sullivan had been told that Talon knew of the new gargoyle, but had stated that if he didn't come to the Labyrinth to live, then Talon wouldn't do anything to help him and in fact wanted the cloned gargoyles to stay away from him. The thought that Talon would callously abandon a gargoyle to be hunted down by the Quarrymen set the priest's stomach to roiling, and his fists to clenching.

It was tempting to just march right down to the Labyrinth and confront Talon himself, and give the leader a good hard talking to about Christian charity—even about basic human charity, since it was hardly a character trait reserved solely for Christians! But he resolved not to confront the leader of the Labyrinth about it immediately, knowing full well that words said in anger are usually regretted later.

There was also the plain fact that gargoyles, even though they frequently acted like humans did, were not human. And he hadn't even known of their existence two months ago; while he'd had plenty of talks with Hudson and the clones since then, he'd be a fool to think he knew everything about them and their culture. Talon's refusal to grant shelter might be tied to some aspect of the gargoyle culture that Talon was aware of but he was not, due to his much shorter involvement with them.

He dearly hoped that Hudson and his clan would return to New York soon, so he could talk to the gargoyle elder again. Hudson was almost always willing to answer his questions, though first he had to figure out what questions to ask.Last time he'd spoken with Elisa, two nights ago, she'd assured him that the clan still fully intended to return to New York, as soon as Brooklyn chose his wife—no, his mate; he had noticed that gargoyles were insistent about using that term. And he'd never asked Hudson about that, either. Was it because in the medieval culture they'd grown up in, a wife was considered her husband's property, and they wanted none of that attitude in their clan? Or was there another reason?

It would be for the best, he decided reluctantly, if he didn't talk to Heinrich about the other clan that normally lived in New York. Not until after he had a chance to talk to Hudson, and determine whether or not Heinrich would be welcome with them. It would be cruel to get the poor fellow's hopes up, only to have them dashed once more.

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

Once he was alone in the room, Heinrich unpacked his bags, just for something to do. He picked up his journal and pen, and began writing in it everything that had happened to that night; pouring his anguished heart out onto the paper. How he'd been rejected by the native gargoyles, because they'd found out something that even he hadn't known until that night; that he acted like he was a scared little child again when he was underground.

After finally setting the pen down, he picked up the little photo album he'd brought with him from Germany. He gazed longingly at the pictures of his family, focusing longest on a picture of his little nephew, Gregor. "For you, Gregor," he said firmly, his voice rough with the tears he refused to shed. "For you, I will try again." Malibu had said he had brothers and a sister, and many friends as well. To think that there were large families of gargoyles, an entire community of them down there…! Communities meant children, and there would be playmates for Gregor, perhaps even a future wife when he was of age!

He didn't know how long it would take, but he was determined to overcome his phobia. One night he would march down into the tunnels again, and he would find Malibu. And he would ask if he could at least talk to the leader of their clan. And when he met that leader, he would ask—beg, if necessary—that his family would be allowed to immigrate here and join them, even if his cowardice meant that he himself was not welcome among them. Gregor's future happiness depended on it; he had to make contact with them… even if that one he'd talked to had seemed a little slow and childlike when it came to brains. They probably weren't all like that, and even if they were, it ultimately didn't matter; they were of his kind, they were gargoyles!

00oo00oo00oo00oo00oo00

…They were his property. And some day soon, he would get those clones back. He would find ways to get back a great deal that belonged to him…

But in the meantime, he had to do all the menial labor himself.

Thailog glanced around, saw no one approaching, and emerged from the shadow of the warehouse to trot quickly across the docks to the water's edge, and heave the plastic-wrapped corpses out as far as he could. Which was a considerable distance away, even with the heavy weights he'd tied to the bodies. One at a time, they splashed into the water a good distance away from the docks and quickly sank into the murky depths. Thailog noticed that the little boy's corpse went a good fifteen yards farther out than his father's had, and idly wondered if that throw had gone a full fifty yards. If so, it would be his personal best.

Satisfied, he headed back to his temporary home, keeping to the shadows; running quickly across streets when no vehicles were approaching, then scaling buildings to travel across the rooftops when the buildings were close together. While traveling up high, he kept his gun cocked and a wary eye out for unwanted company. He had little to fear from humans, but Goliath and his clan were another matter, and encountering Demona would be even worse. They could sneak up and attack on silent wings, and he knew better than to think he could outrun them. And outflying them was no longer an option for him at all.

He avoided glancing at the remains of his left wing; at the great gaping holes in the membranes, and the scar tissue that covered much of what remained. The fire at Coney Island had cost him dearly, but it was no use dwelling on the damage.

Instead, he thought once more about what it would take to get his cloned minions back. Once he got through the Labyrinth's defenses, it should be just a matter of invoking their conditioning; while still in the maturation vats, they'd been thoroughly programmed to 'Obey Thailog.' And even if that conditioning was beginning to fade, shooting one of them—probably Malibu; that one had seemed the most headstrong of the lot—would surely bring the others into line again.

But first he had to get through the Labyrinth's defenses and find them. The clones weren't carrying homing devices like Demona had carried during her incarceration down there, which would mean actually searching for them instead of simply blowing holes through walls and floors to get down to them. And he'd already determined, from the discreet scouting he'd done, that even starting the search would be problematic.

Someone must have clued the Labyrinth people in that installing false walls and periodically moving them, making their home a constantly changing Labyrinth, made an effective defense against raiders. He'd been down below the streets twice, quite sure he'd taken the same route both times, and the entrance he'd found the first time simply hadn't been there the second time. And the two sentries he'd glimpsed during that first scouting expedition had both been armed with tranquilizer rifles, which was very bad; a sentry might hesitate to kill a stranger in cold blood, but wouldn't hesitate to put that stranger to sleep for someone else to deal with later.

No, invading the Labyrinth and retrieving his property would need more manpower and firepower than he currently had. He'd have to back-burner the idea again, until after he acquired more resources.

Resources that damnable blue bitch had denied him of, after all his hard labor! It had been his idea to found Nightstone, his money that had started the company, and his business acumen responsible for the company making the Fortune 500 list within a year of its founding. He'd needed Demona solely for a figurehead; in her Dominique Destine form, she handled the meetings and deals that couldn't be handled by phone, fax or email.

From his 'father' David Xanatos, he had learned that a good businessman never wasted time on regretting any actions; never looked back unless there was a lesson to be learned. So whenever the thought arose that perhaps he should have waited until after Demona had left the room before targeting Angela, and waited until after Demona been encased in cement and prepped for sinking in the Marianas trench before unveiling the sex toy he'd designed to replace her, he quickly dismissed the thought. There was no lesson to be learned there, since he had no intention of making an alliance with Demona ever again. He did intend to meet her again, in his own time and on his own terms, but he would certainly not try to gain her trust and cooperation once more. Such sentiments simply weren't necessary for determining how long it would take for her to heal after being run feet-first through a wood chipper.

Utterly shredded; that seemed entirely appropriate, after what she'd done to him. He'd had an escape route planned in case things went sour at Coney Island; a good businessman always had a backup plan. He'd even planted a few incendiary devices that could be set off by remote, to keep the clan busy and cover his escape. But he hadn't planned on the mutates' electrical blasts setting the roller coaster afire before he was ready to set it ablaze himself, and he certainly hadn't planned on the demented blue bitch dragging him into the fire with her!

He had learned a lesson from that, one that might prove useful later. He'd learned that it was dangerous to forget that an immortal was immortal, even if only for a moment in the heat of battle. An immortal may fear pain, but with virtually no fear of true death or even permanent crippling or disfigurement, they didn't balk at even insanely dangerous risks in order to get what they wanted—and Demona had wanted him to die.

The collapse of the roller coaster had separated them and he'd finally managed to escape her, but a falling beam from the roller coaster had landed on him, knocking him unconscious for a few moments. He'd awoken to incredible pain, like nothing he'd ever known before, and discovered that the burning beam, lying mostly across his left wing, had actually set his skin afire!

He'd managed to shove the beam off himself and stumble away under cover of thick black smoke, reaching the shelter of another nearby structure—a fairground bathroom, stinking to high heaven but just then it hadn't mattered—before collapsing from the incredible pain of his burns.

He'd awoken the next evening with most of his burns healed, but his left wing ruined beyond any hope of ever gliding again. Even just spreading the wing out to full extension to view the damage was incredibly painful; the scar tissue on what remained of the wing didn't welcome the stretching. He was forever grounded, and for that night he'd been too weak to even walk away from the ruined amusement park; healing during the day in that darkened bathroom had taken all his energy reserves. It had been another two full nights before he'd been strong enough to sneak clear across the city, to the secret lair he'd built into the Nightstone building.

Only to discover as he set foot inside that secret lair, that he'd triggered an alarm that had been planted at the entrance. If not for noticing that tiny blinking light at floor level and hastily heading straight back out, he'd have been a sitting duck for Demona. The bitch had not only been expecting him to return; she'd somehow found his secret lair, one that had been built while she'd been imprisoned in the Labyrinth! He still didn't know how she'd found out about it; the lair had been built by private contractors he'd personally hired, and which he had deliberately silenced forever before releasing Demona from the Labyrinth. But he supposed now that she'd been expecting him to build a secret lair, because in the medieval world she'd come from, such things had been commonplace; she'd told him once that Castle Wyvern had been riddled with secret passages.

He'd managed to flee the building before she'd reached the lair, but as he'd hid in the shadows across the street he'd heard her screaming into the night: "Thailog! I know you can hear me! And you should know that I never forgive a betrayal! One day I'll find you again, and when I do you'll die under my own talons! And in the meantime, you can enjoy living in poverty with the human scum!"

And as he'd discovered later, the blue bitch had meant every word. A few hours after fleeing Nightstone he'd quietly killed a man and taken over his apartment, including the computer he'd glimpsed through the apartment window. But when he'd accessed the internet and set about transferring funds from Nightstone's bank accounts to his private accounts, he'd discovered that someone had changed his password for the Nightstone accounts. He no longer had access to all his money there.

To make matters worse, an article in the business section of the day's paper that he found in the apartment told of a massive and unexpected 'downsizing' at Nightstone Unlimited; Dominique Destine had ordered the firing of nearly fifty employees at once, scattered throughout the departments. And one of the ex-employees who'd been interviewed by the newspaper, saying that he had no idea why he or the others had been fired, had been the mole Thailog had planted in Accounting to siphon off funds for him. Reading the list of departments in the company that had been affected by abrupt firings, he decided that Dominique had fired everyone he'd recommended for recruiting from other companies, or whose résumé he'd personally approved of during the hiring process, on just the off chance that they were more loyal to him than to her. There went not only his mole in Accounting, but his mole in Security too, and probably even Sevarius down in R & D.

And as if that hadn't been bad enough, the next night he'd awoken to find that during the day, the blue bitch had somehow gotten to his private accounts too! They had all been emptied, even his offshore accounts in Bermuda. She must have hired a computer hacker and promised him a percentage of whatever money he found that had belonged to Alexander Thailog; nothing motivated a man more than greed. All that were left to him were the numbered Swiss bank accounts, and the paltry 500,000 he'd kept in them to keep them open.

Thanks to the former apartment owner Joseph Elkhorn having left his checkbook and his wallet with credit cards where Thailog could find them after disposing of the body, he had added another 25,000 to his funds. Since then, he'd added another hundred thousand by similar means. But it wasn't enough, not for his plans and ambitions. It was, however, enough to let him pay 6 months' rent on a warehouse on the East side that had become his new base of operations; the site he had painstakingly remodeled to suit his plan to acquire more resources.

He didn't stay at the warehouse he was renting, though. For one thing, it was a bad policy to engage in criminal activities in one's own home, in case the authorities came calling. If the father he'd killed tonight had told the cops where he'd be meeting his son's abductor and they'd staged an early raid on the place, they wouldn't have found Thailog there; only the son's corpse. (Thailog had promised the mechanic that if he did as he was told, he would see and hold his son once more. He just hadn't promised that the son would be alive to appreciate that fact. The man's cries and screams had been as expected, but the curses he'd uttered before dying had been surprisingly inventive; he really should have taken notes.)

But the other reason that Thailog didn't stay at the warehouse was that the accommodations there were really too Spartan to suit his rich tastes. He'd had to abandon the first apartment he'd stayed in, lush and well-furnished though it had been; the late Mr. Elkhorn had an ex-wife who'd left two messages on the answering machine in the span of a week, threatening to come over there in person and forcefully extract from him the child support he owed. Thailog could have set a trap to permanently silence any visitors who came during the day while he was sleeping, but disposing of their bodies—as well as the bodies of anyone who'd come looking for the first visitors—would have become increasingly inconvenient. So he'd simply left, taking the deceased man's framed Cezanne and considerable stock of fine wines with him.

He'd learned his lesson from that first takeover, though. Now, before taking over an apartment, he took a few nights to investigate first and be sure that his target was someone who had no immediate family, close friends or creditors hounding him; someone that no one would miss for several weeks if not months. And he never stayed in one place for too long; six weeks at the most, and then he'd be off to find a new place to stay, before anyone started asking questions.

He climbed in through the window of his latest apartment, which had belonged to the late Daniel Horowitz (another art appreciator; Thailog had added an original Caldwell to his growing collection), and set about making himself dinner while thinking about his plans for the immediate future. Almost all the pieces were in place now. The mechanic had brought back photographic evidence that he'd done his job as ordered, and the warehouse was ready. Now it was simply a waiting game, just a matter of time…

THE END… FOR NOW

Author's note: A long time ago, when I was first starting to write this series, Christine Morgan gave me permission to use her idea of braintapes for clones of Anton Sevarius. It really does seem the easiest way to account for not only the way the man kept turning up again and again in the series after being supposedly killed, but for the way he seemed considerably younger at the end of "Metamorphosis" than he had at the start of the episode. Last time I went to a health spa, electrocution was not one of the treatments they recommended for restoring a youthful glow.