LIFE GOES ON
Meanwhile, Back in New York… Part 10:
By Kimberly T. (email: kimbertow AT yahoo etc)
10.1: Worst Fears
Three days ago:
Kyle Norton, supervisor of mechanics in Xanatos Enterprises' motor pool staff for the Aerie Building, frowned as he filled in the paperwork in front of him. Blasted paperwork, always filling out forms; if it weren't for the fat pay increase he'd gotten when he'd been promoted, he'd happily toss all the paperwork onto someone else's desk and go back to turning wrenches, work that was a helluva lot more satisfying.
The unfamiliarity of this particular form made it more difficult to fill out, too. He filled out vehicle maintenance logs, work orders, purchase orders, gas chits and suchlike all the time, and he'd been supervisor long enough to have done a few rounds of those godforsaken Personnel Evaluation reports on his people, too. But he'd never had to fill out one of these forms, before; a Report of Unexplained Absence (Over 24 Hours).
Kyle's irritation over filling out the form, frequently checking his notes and the personnel record in front of him to be sure he got everything right, mingled with his growing sense of unease and frustration over the whole affair. He just knew in his gut that something very bad had happened to Frank and his son… and all he could do about it was make a couple phone calls and fill out a goddamned form.
Franklin Evinrude Lewis had been a mechanic on staff for over three years now, and during that time he'd kept a spotless record. Worked hard, made very few mistakes, good attitude; Employee of the Month for the motor pool twice in the last two years. Frank was currently one of only two people on the staff qualified to do the diagnostics and maintenance on the computer chips that were wired into nearly every part of the company cars and the Xanatos family's personal limousines; getting those qualifications had earned him a sizeable raise last year. Guys like Frank didn't just decide not to show up for work one day.
And there was more than just Frank to worry about, Kyle knew; there was his little boy, too. Frank was a single father, had been since his wife had died of cancer when their son was only six months old—Kyle had heard that she'd refused the chemo treatments when she'd found out she was pregnant, and by the time she'd given birth she was too far gone for chemo to save her. Since then Frank had been raising his boy on his own, and doing a good job of it so far as Kyle could tell, on the few occasions when Frank had brought little Nicholas David Lewis in to work.
Little Nicky was cute as a button, and a sort-of mascot for the motor pool; for his fifth birthday, some of the guys on staff had chipped in to get him a set of junior-sized set of mechanic's coveralls and a Fisher-Price tool kit. Wearing the coveralls and waving a plastic crescent wrench, with a big happy grin that was only accentuated by the birthmark on his left cheek, Nicky's picture hung on the wall in the break room next to the mug-hook for Frank's coffee cup… a cup that hadn't been used since last Thursday.
Friday morning, Frank hadn't showed up for work. He hadn't called in, either, which had bothered Kyle right from the start. With winter weather came the cold-n-flu season, and just about everyone in the motor pool had taken a day or two off already, but everyone also knew to call in and let the boss know when they were sick in bed or stuck at home taking care of sick kids. About an hour after he should have arrived, Kyle had called and left a message on Frank's answering machine, urging him to call in sick at least some time before quitting time, so Kyle could fix the daily attendance report. But Frank had never called back. And now, at nearly noon on a Monday, he still hadn't shown up. Something was very wrong…
Stupid tight-arsed school district officials. Kyle knew which school little Nicky went to for kindergarten, and he'd called there to find out if Nicky was at school or had been there Friday; if Nicky was at school like always, then whatever was wrong with Frank wasn't too serious. Even if he was too sick for work, Frank would drag himself out of bed to take Nicky to school. But since Kyle wasn't a relative, the school district wouldn't even give him a 'yes' or 'no' as to whether Nicky had missed school!
Well, the school officials could damn well talk to the cops, then. After being stonewalled by them, Kyle had called the local police precinct to file a Missing Persons report on Frank E. Lewis, and given them little Nicky's name for good measure. The cop on the other end of the line had started listening more attentively once Kyle had stressed the fact that Frank was a single father.
That had been half an hour ago, and since then Kyle had been busy filling out this stupid form that the uman Human Resources guy had told him to fill out, when he'd called HR and let them know what was up. Goddamn cover-your-ass forms; he'd rather wipe his ass with them. But nooo, gotta fill out all these papers instead of just driving to Frank's place and pounding on the door like he wanted to do. Who the hell had dreamed up this form, anyway? All the blocks and lines he had to fill in… Kyle could sorta understand wanting to know how many years a missing person had been with the company and what his salary was, but what the fuck did it matter how many vacation days a guy still had on the books when he was missing?!
The phone on his desk rang, and he picked it up, noting that the call was from an outside line. "Xanatos Enterprises, Motor Pool, Kyle Norton speaking."
"Mr. Norton? This is Officer Dubuque, Twenty-Third Precinct; we spoke on the phone earlier. When did you say your employee Franklin Lewis went missing?"
"He didn't show up for work on Friday, so it could have been any time after 6 p.m. on Thursday. Why; did you find out something?"
The police officer on the other end of the line hesitated, then said, "I called the school that you said his son went to. And they informed me that Nicholas D. Lewis hasn't been at school since the Friday before last."
"What the fuck?! Ah, sorry, officer. Did they say why?"
"The school official I spoke to said that they called the father last Monday, and he'd told them that his son was home sick."
"Bullshit! Ah, sorry again, officer. But if little Nicky had been home sick, Frank would have been at home all last week taking care of him; he still had four sick days left on the books." Something Kyle had looked up for writing down on that damn form just a few minutes ago.
"I thought so. Mr. Norton, I'm having a patrol car sent over to Mr. Lewis's apartment, and in the meantime, I'm starting another Missing Persons report for Nicholas Lewis. What can you tell me about the boy? His height, appearance, any known medical conditions…"
Two nights ago:
"Danke—thank you," Heinrich said as he accepted a mug of tea and sipped it.
Father John Sullivan nodded in answer and seated himself in the armchair opposite from Heinrich's chair, before asking, "So, what are your plans for tonight?"
Heinrich looked grimly determined. "Same as before; I try again to find the Labyrinth. To prove myself worthy of the gargoyles down there."
A task that Heinrich had been trying to accomplish for the past three nights, and without any assistance from anyone else; not even the flashlight that the priest had offered him.
Father Sullivan was still tempted to go visit the Labyrinth himself, during the afternoon when Talon would be awake but the gargoyles would not be yet, and confront the Labyrinth leader over being so callous and cold-hearted in his demands. Telling Malibu that if Heinrich couldn't come down to the Labyrinth, then the two gargoyles couldn't be friends or even see each other anymore! After Heinrich had tried his best, going over a hundred yards through the dark tunnels leading from Central Park before his phobia had overcome him…
From what Heinrich had told the priest over the last few evenings of conversation, there was a legitimate reason for his deep-seated fear of dark enclosed places; as a hatchling, he and his brother and sister had been literally buried alive in the bombing of Dresden during WWII. Childhood traumas that severe were not easy to overcome, but Heinrich had been trying his best for the last few nights. Each night he glided from his sanctuary in the church to the Central Park tunnel entrance, and tried once more to find his way in the dark tunnels, along the path that Malibu had been leading him before that first panic attack had sent him screaming back out to the park.
On the first night of his solo attempt to find the Labyrinth, following faint talon-prints in the dust and faint traces of Malibu's scent, Heinrich had gone in and down almost as far as he had with Malibu to guide him. Almost that far by himself, before his shaking hands and the sounds of his own whimpers echoing off the walls had persuaded him that he'd gone far enough for the first try, and he'd shamefully scurried back along his own scent-trail. And each night since he had gone and further and further, alone in the Stygian darkness, fighting his fears and searching…
Searching for a home that was actually quite far from Central Park and almost impossible to find without a guide, as Father Sullivan knew well. If it weren't for the fact that gargoyles had such a keen sense of smell, and Heinrich's ability to follow his own trail back to the surface each time, the priest would have done his best to dissuade Heinrich from going at all, and getting horribly lost far below the city streets. He would have told the gargoyle to just wait until after Christmas, when the priest actually had time to visit the Labyrinth himself.
Johnny Sullivan had always loved Christmas, but after he became a Catholic priest, it had become the busiest time of the year for him. After adding to his usual schedule of masses, Bible classes and home or hospital visits to the elderly & infirm, all the Nativity play rehearsals, fundraising choral concerts, and putting together of food baskets and such for the impoverished members of his parish, the priest had scarcely an hour to himself since the start of Advent! Traveling on foot down to the Labyrinth always took at least four hours out of his schedule, time that he simply did not have right now.
After Christmas, he silently resolved once more. If Heinrich hadn't found the Labyrinth and gained acceptance by then, on the afternoon of the 26th of December, he would personally march down to the Labyrinth and confront Talon. He would explain to the man that Heinrich was trying his very best to be a brave gargoyle worthy of joining the clones down there, and that it was well past time that Talon put aside whatever cultural mores had prevented him from telling Malibu to simply take a flashlight and guide Heinrich along one of the much shorter routes, found elsewhere in the city.
And if Talon still refused, then the priest would take it upon himself to guide Heinrich down to the Labyrinth that very evening, and do whatever was necessary to get the gargoyle accepted! Any culture that made no allowances for a man—or gargoyle—who was under a handicap but trying his hardest to follow their strictures, was a culture in need of some gentle modifications. Father Sullivan had never been a missionary, bringing both helping hands and the Word of God to distant lands and cultures, but for the sake of Heinrich and his family in Germany, he was more than willing to give it a try.
But Christmas was still a few days away; a few very busy days indeed. So Father Sullivan yawned as he saw Heinrich to the door, ensured the gargoyle had the keys for letting himself back in later, then wished him a good night and successful venture before tottering off to bed.
Holding the payphone receiver to her ear, Elisa smiled as she heard her husband Goliath vow that if the trip to Avalon took more than three nights—which would be a full seventy-two days and nights' worth of time in the real world—he would leave the youngsters on the island to do their courting and just swim back to be with her.
The mental image of Goliath doing the backstroke all the way back to Manhattan was amusing, but she still said, "No, you won't; swimming would get the satellite phone wet and ruin it. Just use the phone to call me and Xanatos the minute you return from Avalon, no matter where you end up, and accept Xanatos' offer of a plane to fly everyone straight home." Avalon might have its own ideas about where the travelers 'needed to be' and where it would send them, but so far as Elisa was concerned, magical islands did not always know best. Thankfully, Xanatos was in full agreement with her on that point, and had supplied the special satellite phone even before she could bring herself to ask on Goliath's behalf.
Goliath promised, and they spent a little more time murmuring sweet nothings to each other before Elisa glanced at her watch again. She'd been out in the phone booth ten minutes already, and she never spent more than fifteen minutes on these calls; the length of a standard coffee break. "Goliath, I need to head back inside and return to work, before someone comes out here." The last thing she wanted was for someone to come wandering out of the precinct on some pretext of concern for her, and start listening in on her half of the conversation. All those nosy coworkers of hers, just dying to pry into her private life…
But neither Goliath nor Elisa found it easy to say goodbye this time. Normally they ended their conversations with 'Same time tomorrow night', but this would be the last call for a very, very long time. Finally, after the third or fourth variation of "I love you; be careful out there," Elisa steeled herself and hung up. But she kept her hand on the phone receiver for a few moments longer, standing with her head bowed. "Please, God… or Dragon, if you're listening… bring him back safe and sound. Please." Then she straightened her posture and opened the phone booth door, shivering in the chill December air as she went back inside the precinct.
Today, four hours ago:
The early afternoon sun shone brightly through the windows of the helicopter that Fox expertly piloted through the sky over Manhattan. It was a short jaunt for her today, just from the Aerie Building to her father's home atop the Cyberbiotics main complex, but she meant to enjoy every minute of it. It had really been too long since she'd been in the air as a pilot.
She glanced over at the seat next to her and smiled. Alexander was sound asleep in the special carseat she'd had made to fit in the helicopter seat. He had fussed when she'd put the custom-made protective earmuffs on him back at the castle, but she'd ignored his protests and fastened the strap under his chin; helicopters were just too noisy for long exposure without some hearing protection. And now he was conked out again, just moments after takeoff. She supposed it was like the folk wisdom of lulling a baby to sleep with a long drive in a car; the vibrations that seeped through the airframe and everything inside it were like a mechanical lullaby.
The helipad atop the Cyberbiotics building came into view, and within minutes she was landing gently in the center of the giant H and shutting the engine down. Once the rotors had slowed to a stop, two people approached while she was still unbuckling Alexander from the carseat; Preston Vogel, stiff and formal as ever, and her father Halcyon Renard in his roboticized wheelchair. She opened the door and carried the still-sleeping Alexander out, to deposit him with a smile in his grandfather's waiting arms. "Hey, Grandpa! Don't worry, he'll be awake and ready to shower you with drool and baby-talk in just a few minutes. And if we're lucky, he'll wait a few minutes more before needing another diaper change," as she reached back inside to grab the diaper-and-bottle bag that Anne had prepared for her before leaving.
"Hello, grandson," Halcyon said softly to the sleeping infant, a rare smile creasing his wrinkled features as he lightly stroked Alexander's cheek. Then he reached for the controls of his motorized chair, saying decisively, "Let's get out of this cold weather."
"Good idea," Fox said, watching her breath puff out in white clouds. As they headed for the roof exit, she asked playfully, "So, Vogel, cracked a smile lately? I hear smiling is all the fashion these days…"
"I don't recall whether I have, Mrs. Xanatos," Vogel said stiffly.
"Don't tease the man, Janine," Halcyon said sternly as he touched another control on his wheelchair, and the door to the elevator whisked open for them. After a pause, he continued, "I thought I taught you better than to tease the emotionally handicapped."
"…Daddy, did you just make a joke?" Fox asked incredulously as the elevator doors closed behind them.
Today, three hours ago:
Back at the castle, Anne looked over the list that David Xanatos had handed her and pursed her lips. "Mmm… this is almost all of the children."
" 'Almost'? Who did I miss?" Xanatos asked, not quite indignant. "I had a census taken and Talon himself assured me that this is every child under the age of thirteen currently living in the Labyrinth."
"Oh, it's everyone who's living there now, but not every child who's lived in the Labyrinth until recently; you forgot Eric and Sarah Turken. They and their parents may have moved into an apartment now, thanks to Brian Turken having found a job with your help, but I doubt they're making enough yet to afford Christmas presents for their children. It'd be a shame if they had nothing under their tree on Christmas morning because they had to choose rent over presents, and that's if they even have a tree this year."
"Good point," he admitted. "Well, add them to the list for buying presents. And tell Owen on your way out to call one of the nurseries selling trees, and have them whip up a gift certificate good for one prime-cut Christmas tree. With a couple boxes of ornaments thrown in too."
"I shall take care of that immediately, sir," Owen Burnett said as he stepped into the room. "And have the gift certificate sent by special courier to their door before nightfall, given that there are only a few days left before Christmas."
"Good idea, Owen. Got the cash ready for Anne?" David asked him. He'd decided earlier that it should only take a couple thousand dollars to buy decent Christmas presents for all the Labyrinth children, and they always had at least that much petty cash on hand in the castle.
"It is ready, sir, but if I may offer a suggestion? If I were to accompany Anne to FAO Schwarz and pay for all the presents with the company credit card, then the presents may be written off as a charitable donation and the receipt given to our Accounting department, for use when calculating our taxes."
"That's a good idea, Owen! There's nothing wrong with saving receipts of charitable donations, for tax purposes; my family always kept track of how much we donated to UNICEF and the Red Cross," Anne said with a smile. "Tell you what, I'll just make sure Bethany's ready to go while you call the Christmas tree seller; we'll wait for you in the nursery," she said as she headed out of the office with the list of names.
Once they were alone, David reminded his aide, "The Labyrinth isn't a federally recognized charity, Owen."
"A matter that we should rectify soon, sir," Owen said stiffly, adjusting his glasses.
"Sure, sure; as soon as all the folks living down there, including the gargoyles, are federally recognized as citizens instead of targets. …You're not fooling me, you know," as David smiled slyly.
"I know why you're so eager to accompany Anne to FAO Schwarz. Going to 'play-test some toys for Alexander', aren't you? Hey, I did that myself last week while I was in the neighborhood for that meeting with the city council; having kids gives adults a great excuse to play with toys again." David's grin grew wider. "And I'm pretty sure Fox did it too, a few days ago; she came back that afternoon with a surprisingly happy smile for someone who'd supposedly gone out for a vaccine booster shot. Hey, while you're there, ask if they've seen Fox lately, will you? And if they say yes, see if you can get me a copy of their security tapes for that day." David had a bet with himself that, despite all her diatribes against that fashion doll, Fox had visited the Barbie aisle of FAO Schwarz.
"Very well, sir," Owen said stiffly, adjusting his glasses and straightening his tie. David's grin threatened to split his face in two; he'd learned over the years to recognize the signs of Owen's embarrassment.
"And while you're there buying presents for the Labyrinth kids, see if there's anything special that Bethany really wants; something that Anne will say is too expensive. Buy it while they're not looking, and we'll make it a present for her from everyone in the castle," David suggested.
At that, Owen relaxed and the corner of his mouth twitched in what was almost a smile. "An excellent idea, sir."
"Aren't they all, Owen? Now go on, enjoy yourself," David said, dismissing him with a wave of his hand before sitting down at his desk again to go over the files for another corporate takeover. After Owen left, David wondered with a grin what sort of footage he'd get if he later bribed someone to get the security tapes from FAO Schwarz for today's trip. He almost chuckled aloud at the thought of seeing on film, straight-laced Owen gleefully riding the store's giant hobby horse…
Then the smile faded. What if someone else had similar thoughts about the footage of him playing with the model trains?
Today, one hour ago:
The sun was low on the horizon, just about to let a cold winter night take over. Atop the Cyberbiotics building, inside her helicopter, Fox strapped Alexander back into his carseat with a gentle kiss on his forehead and smiled at his happy babbling. Yep, the kid was eager to get back into the air again; a born pilot, just like his mother!
She leaned back out of the helicopter to accept the puppy-dog plushie that her father was holding out, bestowing a kiss on his forehead as well. "Thanks for having us over, Daddy. And the invitation's still open to come visit us on Christmas!"
"…I'll consider it," Halcyon Renard said gruffly, to Fox's surprised pleasure. That was a more positive response than she'd expected, given her father's dislike for David. Maybe she'd get the whole family together for Christmas after all...
She gave Alexander his doggie, then began powering up and did the standard preflight checks while her father and Vogel retreated off the helipad. Fuel, check; oil, check; hydraulic pressure, check; all good to go.
…Or maybe not. She frowned at the red light that had just illuminated on the console, TR CHIP. She knew what that warning light was for; every rotary-wing pilot did. The magnetic plug on the tail rotor transmission had collected metal fragments; enough to connect the two electrodes of the chip detector. Metal fragments in the rotor's transmission was Not a Good Thing, and the rule was to immediately land if the light came on in midair, and to not go up at all if the light came on in preflight. But there was a chance that the light coming on was a problem with the light itself, not the tail rotor, precisely because it had come on during startup instead of midair. Besides, it was just the tail rotor, not the main rotor, she knew she was good enough that she could probably compensate for any problems with steering, and the Aerie's helipad was only two miles away…
And her father would hit the roof if he ever found out she was taking any chances at all with his grandson's safety. Fox sighed and powered down again.
Her father and Vogel had been about to enter the elevator back down, but at the sound of the engine powering back down they turned around and came back. "Is something wrong, Janine?"
"Chips light on the tail rotor," Fox told him ruefully. "Can you get one of your mechanics to look at it?"
"Certainly. Vogel, see to it," Halcyon ordered. "In the meantime, let's get Alexander back inside."
Vogel indeed saw to it, and Cyberbiotic's fleet mechanics hopped to it. Less than fifteen minutes later, while Fox was changing Alexander's diaper, Henderson the head mechanic reported, "Definitely chipped, ma'am. Bad enough that the transmission's definitely not safe for flying. You're going to need a new transmission, and we can get it for you if I call the parts supplier right now," he added with a glance at the nearest clock, "but even so it'll take a few hours to get the parts couriered to this building and installed."
"Well, f—phooey," Fox muttered with a quick glance at Alexander's innocent face.
"No need to stay past normal working hours for a rush job," Halcyon told his mechanic. "Call the parts supplier, but have it delivered tomorrow. Janine, you can take one of my helicopters instead. Do we have one fueled and ready, Henderson?"
"She can be in the air in five minutes, sir," Henderson assured him.
"And I'd take you up on that offer, except for one thing… Alexander's carseat," Fox sighed. "I had it custom-made to fit that seat, and even so it takes forever to get it installed just right. Our nanny Anne is very particular about infant carseats being installed properly, and she almost took a bite out of one of our mechanics who didn't do it right the first time. No, I'll just call Owen to come pick us up in the limo that has carseats installed." She said to Alexander as she finished fastening his new diaper on, "Looks like we're going home by ground instead of air, kiddo; sorry. Next time, okay?"
Owen's cell phone rang while he was examining a king-sized container of Megabloks, which Anne had assured him were excellent interlocking building toys for infants and toddlers. Being much larger than Lego blocks, no child could attempt to eat and choke on a Megablok, and no adult was apt to miss seeing one before painfully stepping on it in bare or stocking feet. Yes, a few hundred of these should do nicely for building play-castles in the nursery. …No, a few thousand, he decided to himself before answering the phone. "Burnett speaking."
"Owen, it's me," he heard Fox say. "The helo's down for repairs, and Alexander and I are stranded at Daddy's place. How soon can you come pick us up?"
"I am currently with Anne and Bethany at FAO Schwarz, shopping for Christmas presents for the Labyrinth children. I believe Anne still has four children to shop for, but if you like, I can drive over and pick you up, and come back for her and Bethany later."
"No, that's fine, finish the shopping, then come pick us up; another few minutes won't kill us," Fox assured him.
Night had fallen over Manhattan; a cold, clear night with a full moon hanging in the sky and several stars visible despite the 'light pollution' cast by the city. Fox waved goodbye to her father, sitting in his wheelchair at the front door to the Cyberbiotics building, then turned to step into the limo as Owen held the door for her. Inside the limo, Anne was already buckling Alexander into his carseat, right next to Bethany's carseat. Bethany was excitedly babbling to Alexander about all the amazing toys and sights she'd seen at FAO Schwarz; Fox gathered that it was the first time the child had ever been inside the world-famous toy store. "An'-an'-an' they hadda great big Elmo!" Bethany babbled, holding her arms out and up as far as she could in an attempt to indicate how big. "An' a great big Grover, an' it was Super Grover! When he flies! It was so neat!"
"And are either the 'great big' Elmo or Super Grover now stowed in the trunk?" Fox murmured to Owen with a smile.
"Super Grover is being delivered to the castle later," Owen murmured back before wordlessly urging her to get into the limousine; the car's heaters were operating at maximum, and there was no sense in letting all that heat escape.
While fastening her seatbelt, Fox smiled again at the thought of Bethany making Super Grover fly about the nursery, 'Saving the Day' for other toys. Then the smile faded at the thought of what sort of disasters the children might dream up and magically create, for Super Grover to save the toys from…
Anne was almost as happy with the way her day had been spent as Bethany was. As they drove back to the Aerie Building, she told Fox about all the toys, activity sets and children's books she'd bought for the Labyrinth children, and for the surviving gargoyle clones, too; David had agreed with her that the clones, still children in their mental development, should have gifts waiting for them to open on Christmas morning. "And we paid for gift-wrapping and delivery, too; the store manager promised us the gifts would all be wrapped, tagged and delivered to the Aerie building tomorrow. Then we'll drive them down to the Labyrinth entrance in the afternoon and help Talon and Claw sneak them down to the storeroom, for hiding until Christmas morning. There'll be three gifts under the tree for every child on Christmas morning! And then Owen, bless his heart, he bought a gift for all the children—an entire playground set! It's got four swings, two slides, a play-fort and a separate merry-go-round; the kids will go crazy over it! And I know just the room down there it can be set up in, too! The playground set put us way over the two-thousand-dollar limit, but Owen paid for the difference out of his own wallet!"
"Aww… Owen, you're such a softie when it comes to kids," Fox teased Owen with a grin.
From the rear, she could see Owen removing one hand from the steering wheel to stiffly adjust his tie as he said firmly, "Physical activity is an important part of a child's development. With the playground set, the children can engage in physical activity without running rampant in the tunnels and getting in the (yawwn) pardon me, in the way of the adults."
"Uh-huh. Sure, you bet; very logical reasoning. And did you happen to play-test that merry-go-round? Just to make sure a kid could spin it around fast enough to get a thrilling ride?" Fox asked with a grin.
But instead of answering, Owen slumped forward in his seat. Fox thought at first he was trying to hide a blushing face…
But ten seconds later, all the vehicle's occupants were unconscious.
The car slowed to a stop in the middle of the street, and its hazard lights came on, blinking bright red and white in the darkened street; warning other cars away from impact with the obstacle it presented.
Two minutes later, a large delivery truck drove up behind it, then maneuvered around to get just in front of the limousine.
And less than three minutes after its arrival, the truck drove off, with the limousine now stowed in the cargo hold.
David's stomach rumbled abruptly, reminding him that it needed food on a periodic basis. Startled, he looked at the clock and was surprised at how late it was; he'd been so occupied with business deals that he hadn't noticed the hours flying by, and now it was well past dinnertime.
Why hadn't Fox or Owen called him to dinner yet? They should be home by now… But when he left his office and wandered the castle to look for them, they weren't there, and neither were the kids and Anne Marsden. Fox had called him earlier to let him know that her private helicopter was down for repairs, so they'd be riding back with Owen and Anne. David supposed that Owen had picked her and Alexander up, then taken them back to FAO Schwarz to help Anne finish picking out presents. But it surely didn't take this long to buy toys for twenty-one kids and four gargoyle clones, even with Alex and Bethany 'helping' by probably insisting on play-testing everything first. What was keeping them away for so long?
He pulled out his cell phone to call Fox, but it rang just as he was about to open it. Good timing, he thought as he flipped it open to receive the call. "Fox, honey, I was just wondering where you were…"
And then his world came crashing down on him.
Fox had a hangover. A really, really bad hangover. And she'd been sleeping on something cold and hard instead of soft like a bed, so she must have gotten in another drinking contest and passed out under a table again. Damn that Dingo, how could he hold so much booze? Outdrinking her and Wolf together, time after time…
Aspirin and tomato juice, that's what she needed. Lots and lots of aspirin and tomato juice. The Pack always made sure their barracks or hotel rooms were stocked with plenty of both; she just had to crawl out from under the table and over to the fridge. And she'd do it, too, in another million years or so.
"Bethany? Oh god, Bethany, wake up! Please, sweetie, wake up for mommy…"
?? Anne the nanny wasn't part of the Pack… Fox reluctantly opened her eyes, squinting in the sudden harsh glare, and rolled over to face the voice she heard. After a moment, her eyes focused on the figures in front of her: Anne Marsden, on her hands and knees, balancing so she could lightly shake her daughter Bethany, sprawled face-up on the floor.
The utter wrongness of the sight brought Fox to full alertness in two seconds, despite her pounding head. "Anne, what happened? Where's Alexander?"
"I-I don't know what happened, I just woke up here… and Alexander's next to you, or at least his carrier is! Anne shakily pointed past Fox before pleading again, "Bethany, please wake up…"
Fox got onto her hands and knees too, and checked on Alex. He was in his carrier, but lying so still, and his face looked grayish… She hurriedly undid the straps and snatched him close to her, and almost wept when she felt his tiny heartbeat and the whisper of his breath. At least he was alive!
Still sitting back on her haunches and holding her son, she looked around, surveying the room. A cell, roughly twelve feet by twelve feet wide, no windows, and every surface—walls, ceiling, floor, and the door on the far side—was made of steel. The door was easily discernable from the walls but featureless; no hinges on their side, and no doorknob either. There was a small pile of water bottles and packets of food tucked into a corner, and a covered plastic pail along with the diaper bag; they were intended to stay in the cell a while… She swore, not caring for the moment about Alexander hearing words he shouldn't yet. "We've been kidnapped!"
"Very astute," came a voice from the ceiling; a speaker grid embedded there just inches away from the light, which was also surrounded by fine steel mesh. The voice was mechanized, heavily distorted as it said, "Enjoy your stay, ladies, until the ransom is paid."
"Ransom?! B-but I—who are you?!" Anne cried out. "Why are you doing this? What will you do to us if--"
"Save your breath, Anne," Fox said bitterly. "He's not going to tell us who he is; he wouldn't have gone to the effort of making this cell if he had any intentions of us seeing his face. And as for why, that's pretty obvious. David has money, and this asshole wants some of it."
"Quite a bit of it, actually," the mechanized voice said, sounding almost cheerful. "And something else as well… namely, a gargoyle's head on a platter. And now that you're awake, it's time to make the ransom call." And Fox heard a faint click, as the speaker turned off.
"A gargoyle's head on…" Anne shuddered. "Oh god, we've been captured by the Quarrymen!"
"Don't be so sure," Fox told her. "The clan has made lots of enemies over the past two years." She could think of at least three other people and organizations that would likely want a gargoyle's head on a platter, and that was without even trying. Though as to how many of them would have the resources to do what their kidnapper had done… "Anne, what's the last thing you remember?"
"I… we were in the car, heading back to the castle. All of us plus—Owen! Where's Owen?" as Anne looked around frantically.
"Not here, obviously. The kidnappers may have left him behind when they got us, figuring he was just a chauffeur, not worth any ransom. Or maybe he's in another cell nearby. Or maybe…" Fox decided not to finish that sentence; Anne was looking pale enough already. After checking a sore feeling on her left arm and finding a small red welt there, she said, "Look over Bethany's arms and legs, will you? Look for a mark like a small welt, or a pinprick," as she did the same with Alexander, sliding up his little sleeves and pants legs to inspect his limbs.
"I found one, on her left arm… she's been drugged?"
"We were all drugged," Fox corrected Anne, with her teeth bared in a silent snarl as she saw a similar mark on her baby's tiny arm. "Last thing I remember was sitting in the car and watching Owen slump forward; he was unconscious. I undid my seat belt and was getting ready to climb to the front seat to take control of the car, and that's the last thing I remember. We must have been gassed unconscious; something emanating from the dashboard, since it affected Owen first. Gassed while driving; the car probably crashed, and the kidnappers just came along and pulled us from the wreckage before the cops showed up. Probably put on a Good Samaritan show for any onlookers, too!"
Considering she'd been out of her seat at the time, she was lucky she hadn't gone flying at the time of the crash and taken a fatal blow to the head or chest. But all in all, the method of kidnapping was a clever ploy, and she thought briefly about congratulating the head kidnapper on his cleverness… right before she ripped his head off with her bare hands.
Fox continued the scenario, "Once they had us out of the car they drugged us again, that time with shots, to keep us quiet until we were secured. And the bastards probably didn't think to calculate the exact dosage for a baby and a three-year-old girl!" she shouted at the ceiling. "If my son dies from this or suffers brain damage, I will hunt you down and kill you slowly, you hear me?!"
But there was no answer, not for a few long seconds. Then suddenly they heard David's voice, sounding frantic: "Fox? Fox, can you hear me?! April 17th, 1988!"
"The boardroom conference table," she said back loudly. It was their recognition phrase, the way he'd know for sure it was Fox speaking and vice versa; giving the date and the place they had first had sex. Now they'd have to get a new recognition phrase; that one was compromised… "I'm here, and so is Alex! And Anne, and Bethany, but the kids are still unconscious! They were drugged, and the bastard used too much on them! I can't tell yet how much--"
"Not too much at all," the mechanized voice interrupted her. "I calculated precisely how much would be needed to keep a pair of brats unconscious instead of crying, for as long as possible. Crying children are such an annoyance, aren't they?"
Fox told the owner of that voice to do something that was physiologically impossible for the average male. And another thing that was possible, but would leave him very dead and in a state for the coroner to marvel over.
"Tsk tsk, such language in front of the children!" the voice chided her a few seconds later. "Does your husband know you use such foul language? If not, he doesn't know yet; you were cut off before you could give him much more than your first few words, which must have been a recognition phrase. How charming! Shall I guess what meaning it has for you?"
Fox gave the voice more instructions. Several more instructions which, if followed, would result in a corpse that would give even a coroner nightmares. Interspersed with the instructions were commentary on their kidnapper's probable parentage, and more distasteful personal habits. By that time Anne was staring at her, utterly appalled, but just then Fox didn't care. And she outdid herself, nearly turning the air a sulfurous blue, when the voice just laughed at her before turning the speaker off.
After that, they sat in silence for a while. A sullen silence on Fox's part, sullen with more than a little embarrassment. She'd lost her temper, and that was always stupid; particularly stupid when done in front of an employee and semi-friend. Finally she muttered, "Sorry if you were offended."
"Actually… I found it educational," Anne said wryly. "Um… You led an interesting life long before marrying Mr. Xanatos, didn't you?"
"Yeah, you could say that," Fox said absently while leaning back and examining the ceiling, looking for the hidden cameras she knew would be there. Yep, there was one… where was the other? Anyone who went to this much trouble to secure prisoners would have more than one security camera monitoring them, wouldn't they?
There; that was the port for the second camera, high in a corner of the walls instead of mounted in the ceiling. Much better disguised than the first camera, and she might have missed it if she hadn't been looking specifically for it. More points for their kidnapper's cleverness. So the first camera gave one view of the cell, and the second camera gave another. Assume panoramic lenses for both, and nearly every point in the cell was covered. And they were obviously wired for sound, too. That made secretly planning an escape from their cell difficult…
But not impossible. "Yeah, I led an interesting life. Learned a little of everything, here and there… but let's not talk about me right now," she said as she sat cross-legged with her son in her lap, facing Anne, and away from the second camera. "Let's talk about you, Anne; you and your friends. You're friends with that girl Dana, aren't you? I was at their wedding…" And, hunched over so the overhead camera couldn't see her hands hovering above Alex, Fox made a series of gestures with her right hand: a loosely clenched fist with the thumb alongside, then four fingers straight up with the thumb folded across the palm, and finally an open cupping grip, turned sideways. The symbols in American Sign Language for the first three letters of the alphabet; A, B and C.
Fox had learned basic sign language years ago, while traveling the globe as a mercenary; there were times when the ability to talk with your comrades without uttering a word was not only useful, but life-saving. Dana Labyrinth, Claw's wife, was deaf as the proverbial post. And Fox had overheard Hudson say that Dana had driven several Labyrinth residents to learn sign language, so they could communicate with her and Claw. It was a long shot, seeing if Anne had been one of those residents, but now was a time for long shots.
Anne's eyes widened; then she smiled broadly and said "Yes, I am! She's very nice, once you get to know her. Very kind and helpful, and generous with what she knows," and as she spoke, she made a swift gesture right back, touching three fingers to her thumb while the index finger pointed upwards; the Ameslan symbol for D.
"Always good qualities in a lady," Fox said, while swiftly raising a hand to stop Anne from making any more letter-symbols; Anne's hands were in plain view of the second camera. She'd have to do some maneuvering later on, position them so their hands couldn't be seen, and that could wait until she had something important to communicate via sign. But just knowing they had a way of communicating unheard and even unnoticed, gave her a tiny thrill of hope. And it should surely raise Anne's spirits too; Fox had been held prisoner enough times to know how important it was to keep one's morale up.
To maintain the façade that they were just talking to pass the time, she said, "Dana and her husband make a nice couple; they're good people. In fact, they remind me of a missionary couple I once knew, years ago in Africa. Did I ever tell you about the time I spent in Africa?" And she proceeded to tell a cheery and extremely bowdlerized version of her adventures in Africa, glancing down at Alexander in her lap every other minute.
Fox didn't believe for a moment that their kidnapper precisely calculated the dosage of general anesthetic to keep an infant asleep as long as possible without harming him; the bastard had just been trying to convey the impression that he'd thought of everything, and was perfectly in control of every aspect of their situation. Which he might be for the moment, but Fox vowed that would change as soon as possible. But right now, all that mattered was her baby's well-being. Please, Alexander, wake up soon…
Kidnapped. Oh god, they'd been kidnapped. David hadn't wanted to believe it, even though the person who'd called him using Fox's cell phone had clearly not been Fox. But then he'd heard her voice, and the tension in it even as she gave him her half of their recognition phrase…
Which had pretty damn stupid of him, letting the kidnapper listen in on their private keys to recognizing each other. What had he been thinking?!
He hadn't been thinking. He'd been gripped by blind panic, at the thought of his precious son and Fox in the hands of kidnappers. Panic made people do stupid things. And now it was time to stop panicking and start thinking clearly. The lives of his wife and son depended on it.
Oh god, they'd been kidnapped…
But he'd made plans for this; contingencies. Kidnap threats were a fact of life for the very rich. He raced for the security room, and activated the system he'd put in place months before Alexander had been born:
Every single baby shirt and onesie that Alexander wore was double-layered; not just for insulating warmth, but to hide the microchips sewn into them, each embedded in the side seam under the right sleeve. Waterproofed microchips that were the best semi-active GPS beacons money could buy; emitting no signal until activated by a programmed pulse sequence on a special frequency, one of the two dozen that he'd had reserved by the FCC for Xanatos Enterprises' private use. As he pressed the last key on the keyboard, telling the computer to send the signal out, he pictured in his mind's eye the special antenna arrays built into the sides of the castle extending forth from their niches, and broadcasting that pulse sequence all over the city. He turned to the monitor and the map of the city presented on it, watching it tensely. Come on, let's see that little dot… Show me where my son is!
But no little dot showed up on the monitor. Wherever they were being kept, it must be behind walls thick enough to block the signal. Unless they'd been taken clear out of the city already…
More commands entered into the computer, and the pulse sequence was sent up to a satellite. A communications satellite which activated circuitry that had been installed but never used before, sending out 'master' signals to eleven other satellites orbiting the earth. For ten seconds, all cell phone usage on the North American continent was temporarily interrupted; instead of phone conversations, the pulse sequence was broadcast instead. While Xanatos looked at a monitor now showing a grid map of the entire continent instead of the city, searching…
There! A signal! Coming from California! He pounded the keyboard to refocus the search, homing in on the beacon until he had the exact city, then the street address….
Of the special children's tailoring shop that made Alexander's shirts. Dammit!
All right, go to plan C. He'd had standard GPS beacons installed in each of the limousines a long time ago, operating on another private frequency; he could find any car in the fleet, anywhere on the continent. If they'd been kidnapped in public right from FAO Schwarz, he'd surely have heard from the police by now, so they'd probably been nabbed while in transit. Finding the limo might give him clues to finding the kidnappers.
But the GPS only showed the three limousines down in the garage, not the fourth one that Owen had taken for the gift shopping. Dammit, how had they found and disabled that beacon? Or had the limo also been put under heavy lead shielding to block it?
Okay, so the beacons were useless. His own ears and brain, then. What precisely had the kidnapper said, what possible clues to identity had been present in that voice, and what sort of background noise had come through with the voice?
In response to his words to whom he'd thought had been Fox, an electronically distorted voice had said, "How good of you to be concerned about her safety. That means you'll be interested in your wife and son's safe return, then."
Shock had derailed his mind enough that at first all he could stammer was "Wh-who are you?"
"No, no; that's not the right question. The question you should be asking is 'how much will it cost?' And the answer to that question is: one hundred million dollars, and the head of a gargoyle. That's how much it will cost you, if you have any interest in seeing your wife and son again."
He'd gotten enough brain cells working again by that point to say bluntly, "I don't believe you. You expect me to just take your word for it that you have them, but they're still alive and in good health? I'm not going to pay money for corpses. Prove to me that they're alive, or I'm ending this call right now."
"I'd expected as much," the kidnapper said with what sounded like a chuckle. "Would you like to talk to your wife? She's awake now, and probably quite anxious to hear from you too…"
There'd been a faint click, and he'd heard Fox's voice, for just a few precious moments. Long enough for her to give the recognition phrase, then say "I'm here, and so is Alex! And A--" and then she'd been cut off.
"Now you have your proof," the kidnapper had told him. "And if you want more than that, you'll have to pay for it. One hundred million dollars, and a gargoyle's head on a platter. You have seven days to collect both. And no police, of course; if you contact them, I'll know about it. And your wife and child will suffer for it. I'll contact you again soon, Xanatos."
"Wait! I'll pay that and even a little extra… another twenty million, if you return the nanny, her child and Owen Burnett as well! What do you say to another twenty million?" Xanatos had been frantic to just keep the voice on the line for a while longer; even while he'd been demanding proof that Fox and Alexander were alive, he'd been running back to his office to plug the cell phone into its cradle. A cradle that not only recharged the cell phone, but at the flick of a switch could transfer it to speakerphone, and to a recording device. When he'd mentioned Owen's name, he was almost at the office door…
But the kidnapper's only response to the offer had been a bark of laughter, before abruptly hanging up just as Xanatos was about to put the phone in its cradle.
So, no recording. And the voice had been electronically distorted, so all that he could tell was that the caller was educated; no street slang, no discernable accent. But had there been any background noises that might give him clues to their location? He wracked his brains, but could only recall one sound he'd heard while the voice was talking, for just one moment; a faint beeping sound, the sound a computer made sometimes while operating. But even personal computers were everywhere these days; not quite one in every household, but they were common enough that a computer's presence was no real clue at all.
Fox's voice… had echoed, just a bit. Echoed as if she'd been in a room with metal walls. Metal walls thick enough to block Alex's beacon signal. Could that information be useful somehow? Maybe…
But right now, he had a few phone calls to make. The kidnapper had said no police, and given what resources he obviously already possessed, David was inclined to believe the warning about the kidnapper knowing if police became involved. But David had more resources available than just the police…
His first call was to New Orleans.
The call reached New Orleans just a few seconds too late; by the time Brooklyn had been called to and picked up the phone, Goliath had already boarded the first of two pirogues that had been tied together and prepared for a journey. And by the time Xanatos told Brooklyn what had happened, Goliath had chanted the travel spell that triggered the magical mists of Avalon, and transported himself, Hudson, Hudson's new mate Ursula, Bronx, Angela and two single females of the New Orleans clan to Avalon.
Arriving at the dock too late to stop the travelers from leaving, Brooklyn told everyone else what Xanatos had told him about the kidnapping, and that a jet that would be waiting for them at the New Orleans airport; Xanatos had said he would have a flight arranged for them within fifteen minutes. The fastest way to get the gargoyles to the airport would be the 18-wheeler truck that would have been their transportation to New York a few nights later… but it wasn't ready to go yet; the truck cab and its remodeled cargo trailer were several yards apart, and the truck hadn't been driven for days.
Marcel LeBeau, the truck driver in the New Orleans clan, immediately hopped into the cab of his rig and started the engine. He rolled down the window and hollered to Brooklyn and Adam, "It take a few minutes fo' dis beast to warm up an' be ready to roll; use de time to hook up de trailer an' get de last of everyone's gear on board!"
Adam immediately shouted for his strongest clan members present. "Joseph, Adelbert, Catherine, Martin! Get that trailer over to the truck cab and hitched up! Thomas, Etienne, help with the wiring hookups!"
And Brooklyn shouted, "Everyone going to Manhattan, you have three minutes to run get your belongings and get them on board that truck; if they're not on by then, someone can mail 'em up after you!"
Isabel, Rebecca and Robert dashed for their studios and workshops and other places, to get the few items that hadn't already been loaded into the truck. Lexington and Broadway, who had come down from Manhattan with nothing but their loincloths, gathered around Brooklyn and demanded every scrap of information he could give them about the kidnapping. "There'll be time to talk on the way to the airport," Brooklyn said tersely, just before running for the mansion. "I'm getting that cell phone Goliath left for me, the one he used for talking to Elisa! Lex, help with the truck's electrical hookups if they need it!"
Broadway turned to his mate Martha and said anxiously, "Martha, honey, I know we'd talked about our staying here for a while longer, until things are better, but…"
"But plans have just changed," Martha finished for him. Neither the reason he'd given Goliath and Adam—concern over Angela's state of mind whenever she saw the two of them together—nor the real reason for extending their stay in New Orleans, Broadway's fears that his injured wing wasn't yet ready for the rigors of routine patrols in Manhattan… None of that was particularly important when compared to what they'd just been told.
Broadway nodded. "I have to go back there now. The kids and their mothers are in danger!"
"I understand. And I'm going with you."
He gave her a startled look. "But you haven't even started packing your stuff yet; your manuscripts and your cookbooks and--"
"And all that can wait until later! I can write a list and send it down, and have my things mailed or sent UPS up to New York… but your human clan members are in danger now, so we're going now! So let's help everyone put the truck together, and get inside."
At the same time, Adam was addressing his clan. "I'm going with the Manhattan Clan up to New York; while I'm gone, Stephen's in charge! And I ask for volunteers to come up with me. People, this will be highly dangerous! We're going into a war zone, a war declared by the Quarrymen on all gargoyles! And whoever would dare to kidnap the wife and son of a billionaire is sure to also be armed and dangerous, and may well be expecting our involvement!"
Grunting and straining with the others to haul the heavy trailer over to where the truck cab was warming its engine up, Martin said with his fangs bared, "I been itching to take on a Quarryman anyway, for that ambush the bastards set for those poor clone guys; count me in!"
"And me," Etienne said with a smile that also bared his fangs. "Two minutes while I get my stash of nasties!" as he left Thomas and Marcel to deal with the trailer's electrical hookups while he dashed for the mansion.
"And me! Be right back!" Lucy shouted over her shoulder as she also ran for the mansion.
Nearly a dozen other New Orleans clan members were also chiming in. Including Lucretia and Cassius, who glanced at each other, then nodded in wordless agreement before Cassius informed Adam with a grim smile, "We're going. Clan leader, permission to be lethal?"
"In self-defense and as a last resort, permission granted," Adam said tersely. Adding with a pointed finger, "And I mean that as a last resort, Cassius!"
Adam also accepted Martin's mate Cecelia coming along, telling her to grab the portable emergency medical kit; as the clan's junior healer, she would be needed to tend to any who were wounded in the search. But he turned down several other volunteers, saying that only the clan's most skilled fighters would likely have a chance against the Quarrymen who could also take to the skies on hovercycles, and fight them with distance weapons like the electrified-net-mortars that Goliath had told them about.
Erasmus, the clan's chronicler, was one of those turned down, but he stubbornly insisted to Adam, "Where Lucy goes, I go!"
Adam shook his head once more. "Erasmus… you're simply not as fast and lethal as Lucy is, and we're soaring into skies full of killers!"
"Then why is Martha going?" as Erasmus pointed over to the trailer, which had just been connected to the truck cab; Martha and Broadway were already opening the trailer's back doors and climbing in together. "She may be Broadway's mate, but she's no warrior at all; she hasn't been on a patrol for years!"
"She's going because she's technically part of the Manhattan clan now, and I can't forbid her from going!" Adam snapped, before sighing. "And If I tell you no, you'll probably stow away like Rebecca did, won't you? All right, get in the truck. No, do not go get more notebooks! In fact, leave the one in your hand behind! I don't want you to get preoccupied with writing notes for the chronicles, and forgetting to watch your back!"
Two minutes later, the truck and cargo van were completely hooked up and gargoyles were piling into the back. Etienne paused long enough to give a hug and kiss to his mate Catherine, the bovine-looking rookery keeper, who grabbed his fan-shaped ears and stared into his eyes as she said fiercely, "You come back to me, you hear?"
"Tell the hatchlings I'll be back and waggling these ears for them in just a few nights," Etienne said with a grin.
"You'd better! All right, Tricky, give 'em hell!" as she gave him a rib-creaking hug and a wet bovine kiss before letting go so he could get into the truck.
As soon as the doors were closed, Marcel gave a warning blast on the air horn and put the truck in gear, heading for the airport. "It'll be just over an hour's drive," Adam informed Brooklyn as everyone sat down on the benches lining the inner walls of the cargo hold.
Brooklyn nodded curtly. "Glad you folks are coming along. With so many clan members gone to Avalon, we're seriously understrength otherwise." He looked at the bags at Lucy and Etienne's feet, and asked, "What are you guys bringing along? Weapons of some sort? An archer could come in handy…"
"I'm not an archer, but I'm fairly accurate with these," Lucy said sweetly as she opened her carpet bag and pulled out a series of stilettos; sixteen needle-sharp throwing knives, in sheaths that she proceeded to strap onto her arms and legs. With one more, smaller than the rest, that she tucked into her hair after rolling it up into a bun.
"By 'fairly accurate', she means that she can stick one in the throat of a running deer over twenty yards away," Adam said with a grim smile. "And pin a man's feet to the floor while he's running, or his hand to the wall before he can go for his gun… You have a full set again? I thought you lost three of them in that raid on the gun-runners last month."
"I did, but the replacements came in from Germany a full three weeks ahead of schedule; did you pay extra for a rush order, dear heart?" Lucy asked Erasmus.
Erasmus nodded to his mate, then explained to the others, "I gave them to her last night, during the Solstice ceremony; I figured if I'd waited and she unwrapped them on Christmas morning, the hatchlings would have been asking Lucy to share her new toys with them."
"No doubt they would," Adam agreed wryly. Then he looked over at Etienne with a grim smile. "All right, Etienne; let's see what you brought. Everything you've been saving up since I forbade anything stronger than joy buzzers, am I right?"
"What, you brought a bag of practical joke stuff with you?" Broadway said incredulously. "Etienne, I like fun as much as anyone, but this is no time for playing jokes on people!"
"It depends on what you call a good joke," Etienne said cheerfully as he opened the bag. "I promised Adam a long time ago that I'd never do more than embarrass anyone in the clan with my practical jokes… but sometimes I find stuff on patrol and after raids that I think is worth keeping, just in case I have a use for it later. Let's see… two smoke canisters, three road flares, two tear gas grenades, four 'flash-bangs' or stun grenades—whups, careful, don't let that roll away—a cake of C-4, the detonator for it—where's the timer? Ah, here it is—and there's the other smoke grenade, I thought I had three of them… and two of my own creations; 'tar babies'!" He pulled out and hefted what appeared to be a homemade grenade as he explained with a grin, "Toss one of these through a window, and when it blows, everyone and everything within spattering distance is covered in a super-fast-sticking epoxy. Guaranteed to upset and distract people, plus it's kinda hard to draw a gun when it's just been glued into its holster."
Lexington grinned. "You have a nasty sense of humor, and I like it!"
"What, no regular exploding grenades?" Martin asked, apparently disappointed, and no one was sure if he was joking or not.
"Nope; Adam made me promise to turn over to Keith and the police, any grenades that were designed to be lethal."
"And the C-4?" Adam asked with a raised brow ridge. "I'd put that in the 'lethal' category…"
Etienne gave his clan leader a shrug and mock-innocent look as he said, "You never said anything about C-4, just the grenades!"
"Some of that stuff just might come in handy if we encounter Quarrymen while searching, or when we find our people and the bastards who kidnapped them," Brooklyn said grimly. Then he pulled out the cell phone that Goliath had left behind for him. "Lex, do you remember the phone number for the castle?"
"Um… no; I never had to call our own home," Lexington said with chagrin. "But I remember Elisa's home number, and she might not have left for work yet…"
Elisa was indeed still at home; eating a lonely meal before work, while absently petting her cat Cagney and occasionally eyeing the phone in her apartment, before resolutely turning away from it yet again. She and Goliath had said their goodbyes last night, and calling him again before he left would only prolong the agony, and possibly distract him to the point that he might forget something important for the journey to Avalon. So no, she wouldn't call. Even if she really, really wanted to hear his voice again…
But when the phone rang, she tossed her fork aside and ran for the phone with a smile on her face. She picked up the receiver and cooed, "Hey, Big Guy; I was hoping you'd call…"
"Elisa, it's me, Brooklyn," was the response she got instead. "We got called a few minutes too late; Goliath and everyone else bound for Avalon just left, a few seconds before I could stop 'em. But Adam and seven of his clan members are coming up with us and our mates, and all of us ready for trouble. Call Xanatos for us and let him know, will you?"
After Elisa recovered from her embarrassment over showing her mushy side to someone who wasn't Goliath, she sputtered, "Called too late--trouble--Brooklyn, what's going on?!"
"Didn't Xanatos call you already? He called me less than ten minutes ago, and told me that the kids and their moms have all been kidnapped, along with Owen!"
"WHAAT?!" And two minutes later, after getting all the details she could from Brooklyn, she hung up and called Matt Bluestone. "Matt, be ready for pickup within five minutes! I'll explain why when I see you!" as she tossed the receiver back onto the hook, grabbed her jacket, gun and car keys and ran out the door.
Less than half an hour later, Xanatos was interrupted in his phone call to the Grandmaster of Illuminati, by the intercom speaker; the security guard in the lobby, calling him to tell him that Detectives Maza and Bluestone had strode past him flashing their badges and the special security passes they'd been given, and boarded the express elevator for the castle.
Brooklyn must have called them in, he realized as he curtly acknowledged the security guard before turning the speaker off, and turning back to the phone conversation. "Mr. Duval, you assured me that Oliver Grimm had made the same pact of non-aggression against me, as I swore against him. So I would very, very much appreciate it if you would make enquiries to ensure he is holding up his end of the bargain, and remind him of the consequences of breaking that pact if he has anything at all to do with this kidnapping!"
"I believe a phone call or two can be made on your behalf," the Grandmaster said pleasantly, with as little concern in his voice as if Xanatos had called to inform him that it was raining outside. "Anything else?"
"Yes, Grandmaster, there is." Xanatos took a deep breath before saying, "I humbly request access to and permission to use the All-Seeing Eye."
"Oh, that's simply not feasible anymore, David; not with the world's population at its current level. The last person to lay hands on the All-Seeing Eye was driven insane within seconds. And he was a Level 4 mentat; rather a stronger mind than you have, I'm afraid."
"I'll risk it! Grandmaster, please! My wife and son!"
"Yes, it's very unfortunate. I shall contact Mr. Grimm on your behalf. And make a phone call to Mr. Hacker as well; he may be of some assistance to you. It's my understanding that the FBI are usually called in on such matters."
"No! The kidnapper said no police!" Xanatos said in alarm.
"Dear fellow, they always say that. I'll call you back after I talk with Mr. Grimm. Good bye," and the Grandmaster hung up on him.
"Kidnappers always say 'no police'," Elisa Maza said in an unconscious echo of the Grandmaster's words as she and Matt Bluestone strode into his office, their faces grim as death. "That's because they don't want to get caught! Brooklyn called me, and I called Matt. Now tell us everything!"
Five minutes later, Xanatos had told them everything he knew, and stressed again that he didn't want the police officially called in. "I can't risk anything happening to my family if the kidnappers discover that the police are involved. And if they know enough to circumvent all my safeguards for my family, then they almost undoubtedly know enough to have planted moles in the police department ahead of time!"
"Why are you so sure of that?" Elisa cocked an eyebrow at the billionaire.
"Because Xanatos himself has at least two moles in the NYPD," Bluestone told his partner, as her jaw dropped halfway to her chest. "One I'm pretty sure I've pegged already, but at least one more I haven't yet."
"Four altogether, but only one in your precinct," Xanatos said dismissively. "Now can we--"
"GodDAMMIT, Xanatos!" Elisa exploded. "And YOU!" as she wheeled and glared at her partner. "Why didn't you tell me that before?!"
"Because I'm not positive about just who it is, and I knew you'd rip the precinct apart looking for him if I told you my suspicions, and that doesn't matter right now!" as Matt glared right back at her."What matters is finding the kids, and their mothers!"
"And Owen, if he's still alive," Xanatos added grimly. "Puck is allowed to use his magic to protect and teach Alexander, and he'll take any excuse he can get to cut loose; he should have turned those kidnappers into slugs or even lower life forms the second they made any hostile moves! The fact that he didn't step in to save Alexander and everyone else tells me they got to him first, somehow."
Elisa reluctantly nodded as she turned to face Xanatos again, but shifted her gaze sideways a moment as she muttered, "When all this is over, we're going to have a talk about keeping secrets from partners…"
"Says the partner who lied to me about the gargoyles for over half a year," Matt muttered back.
"Please! Can we focus, here?!"
Owen awoke slowly, with an aching head. An aching head and cold feet, and something cold on his ankles and wrists.
He slowly rolled over and got up, surveying his surroundings. A steel cell, roughly 12 feet square. No windows, one door; no knob on the door for opening it. Steel everywhere…
Including on him. Thick steel manacles on his wrists, and steel shackles on his ankles. His shoes and socks had been removed as well, leaving his bare feet in direct contact with the steel floor.
And no sign of Alexander, Bethany, Fox or Anne at all. This was Not Good.
As he got to his feet, an electronically distorted voice issued forth from a speaker embedded in the ceiling. "Good evening, Mister Burnett. Or do you prefer Owen? …Or should I simply call you Puck?"
To Be Continued!