DILEMMA

Disclaimer: the author does not claim ownership to the characters or plot development mentioned from "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" or "Angel". These properties expressly belong to Joss Whedon, Mutant Enemy, Greenwolf Corporation, 20th Century Fox Television, WB Network, etc. Any other characters contained in the original story are the author's.

Historical Note: The action in this story takes place after "To Shanshu In L.A."

DILEMMA, WITH HORNAGE

by Evan Como

Contemplating the obscene nature of the situation, Wesley reverently draped a mauve-colored satin sheet over the lifeless body.

"Shall I do the honourable, or leave that to you?" He asked Angel the obscure question without a second thought, assured the vampire would know exactly what he meant.

Angel did. "We're both off the hook, Wes. Madame Dorian has her own connections." He gently tugged at Wesley's sleeve, drawing the taller man back into the hallway. "I guess we'll have to practice our Latin some other time."

Cordelia replaced Wesley's utensils in the plastic carryall, wrapping one of the filthier scalpels in a paisley scarf lifted from the crime scene. A few unattached sequins fluttered onto the carpeting, lending a glamorous touch to an otherwise unpretty scene. "Didn't you have a pokey thing, too, Wes?" she questioned, shoving past the disposal technicians. "Got it!" she chimed upon returning from the bedroom, holding the awl at eye level for a quick inspection before flipping it haphazardly into the tote.

"Does she worry you half as much as she worries me?"

Wesley's face relaxed considerably. The single rut across Angel's otherwise smooth forehead was self-explanatory--severe confusion caused that look more often than ordinary concern. "It worries me she's become so helpful, Angel. Pretty soon, I'm afraid, you won't be needing me anymore."

"Guy, Wesley! Who wants to do your old stupid job anyway? It's totally ick!" Cordelia lustfully petted the fine fabric lining the walls of the bordello. "And, speaking of ick-- Out of all the demons in the world, why would anyone waste their money on paying for sex with a Kwaini? Like, ew! I know demons have a different standard of beauty--if they even have standards. Hey, Angel! Do demons have like a Miss Demon Universe Pageant or something? That would be weird, huh! And who'd judge it?"

Madame Dorian's immediate presence saved Angel the reply. The refined woman, in her early 50's, was wearing her sophistication much better than an artificial smile. "Well?" she ventured, casting an appraising glance at Angel's two associates. The young woman's forthright visual evaluation impressed her as much as she found the bespectacled man's bashful deference to the vampire charming.

Angel stepped aside, drawing Dorian's attention to him exclusively. "We'll need your client list," he began, cutting the businesswoman's beginning protest with an even more serious expression. "With their REAL names and REAL addresses."

Dorian fingered one of her cropped red curls nervously. The vampire's eyes narrowed, making him more sinister-looking than attractive. She studied his bone structure while wondering if Private Investigation was lucrative enough to supply his obvious taste in fine clothing. His would make a fine addition to her stable--the one exception to her 'no vampire' rule.

"I'll see what I can do," she replied less-than-enthusiastically.

Cordelia, tch'ing, shook her head in disgust as Dorian left to answer an important phone call. "I just don't get women like her."

Wesley urged his associate towards the staircase, lagging behind to take the one flight by Angel's side. "Well, Cordelia," he began, his British tone decidedly scholarly, "the oldest profession has never been without its brigands, I suppose. Mankind, demonkind-- There will always be the prey-ers and prey-ees." Wes contemplated the trace of a smile twitching at the corners of Angel's mouth while concluding, "Madame Dorian probably sees herself as a commodity-supplier and nothing else."

In the lobby, halting just before of the reach of the sunlight streaming in through the paned windows, Cordelia turned around to face her male counterparts. She went all one-eye squinty at Angel, causing the vampire to go into full-on amused mode. That was all the permission she needed. (The whole personality metamorphosis was getting a little easier with Angel's guidance.)

"Look, Wesley," she mock-huffed after depositing the Plymouth's keys in his open palm, "Dorian is a pimpette, anyway you look at it. I get that fine. She has ho's, she a ho-master. OK? What I don't get is the part where you go through all the pain and expense to get a killer facelift--which she's on the verge of re-needing, by the way--and you don't do squat with your hands. Did you check out her hands, Angel? Those *were* liver spots, weren't they? You got the DoesMeDemon Corral in high-priced Bel Air and you're telling me you can't get your hands on some Creme de la Mer? Puh-leeze!"

"And you let her say these things, Angel!" Wesley retorted, outraged. He stomped towards the door, accompanied by the sound of Angel's and Cordelia's unabashed hysterics.

-0-

Sunday's Kwaini wasn't the only victim at Madame Dorian's that week. Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday presented three more bodies, bringing the death toll to eight since just before Valentine's Day. Madame D neglected to mention the other four, chalking those demises to ordinary business circumstances. It seems she was answerable for the Kwaini's death, however--the murdered female's family actually initiated Angel Investigation's involvement.

Cordelia volunteered for brothel surveillance, figuring she was the least sore-thumbable choice. That and she was looking forward to the change of scenery. Boy, she couldn't have been more wrong. Men in heat were men in heat, no matter how much money their bulging pockets contained. After a few hours of causal leering, she opted to remain in the back room and do video surveillance instead. Needless to say, it was an educational experience--not her elective of choice.

She forbore her assignment while Angel and Wesley compared the pathology reports through the agency's data base and a few books Angel picked up from storage. The ritual used was, thankfully, not so obscure nor was its motive. A form of Purity Ritual based on Pre-Classic Mayan customs had been updated to include a few twists centered in modern Mexican tradition. Comparing the customer list to their investigative work proved fruitless.

Then Cordelia called to complain.

-0-

"I'm telling you, Angel, these people are sick. And there aren't just girls here. Did she tell you she doesn't have just girls? I don't know who's worse--the men or women. OHMIGOD! Look at these fiends. There's a whole group of 'em! And they're watching NYPD Blue while they're at it. I would not be wanting to do it while a big ol' fat cop is boo-hooing all over my TV screen."

"I don't think you should actually be watching, Cordelia." Angel turned his back on Wesley's sudden interest, walking the phone into Cordelia's bedroom and shutting the door. The door immediately opened and closed behind him and he frowned in the ceiling's direction before catching himself. (It was possible Dennis was at eye-level or that the apparition, if so graced with a sense of humor, hovered around the knees.)

"So, check it out, Angel-- OHMIGOD!"

"WHAT!" The curtain's sudden movement unnerved Angel and he swatted at the air.

"They have THE BEST food here. Ohmigod, Angel! I'm eating like this salmon en croute--almost as good as yours--and the bread is incredible! Mmmmmmmm."

The chewing annoyed Angel. Impatient, he had to wait a few more bites before Cordelia continued, "not that any of this is ordinary--oh, and the fruit salad at lunch was amazing. Everything was just ripe!"

"Is this a Michelin report or did you call with some real information, Cordelia?"

"Poor, Angel. Am I making you hungry?" She smacked for emphasis, smiling through a sip of her ice tea after imagining Angel frustrated enough to throw something across the room, suddenly remembering everything he could possible throw belonged to her. "All these freaks seem harmless. And the hookers I talked to said the clientele is really cool. They like it here. And seriously, Dorian is a neat old chick. She put her four daughters through college. Three of 'em are dog meat, but one's not half-bad. You think Wesley would be interested? She's like some paleoEntemens. That's either got something to do with the dusty stuff Wesley likes or she's *really* into pound cake."

-0-

There was a little matter of trying to determine justice in the case of eight murders. The human killer decided she was doing research, not ritual murder. A business-woman decided to protect her investment while being a supportive Mom. Angel decided unlife was getting more difficult to unlive.

The Kwaini family decided to do something about the situation, themselves.

-0-

"If Cordelia was here, she'd be wondering right about now about whether or not having a Vision negates the firm's ability to be paid for the job, Angel." Wes raised his eyebrows compassionately and sighed.

Angel continued to stare at the lifeless body of Madame Dorian's daughter, Lauren. There was a placid look on her face--she obviously suffered far less than the Kwaini prostitute did--but that didn't ease his moral dilemma. Already hearing the police sirens approaching the crime scene, there wasn't much time to make a decision.

"Kate will probably own this case," he said flatly.

"Probably," Wesley interjected. "Your call, Angel. You know I'll back you 100%. If the Vision had happened sooner, you may have been able to prevent this tragedy. But it didn't. Now, I'm not condoning an eye for an eye--"

"Don't make the decision for me, Wes." Angel glanced over his shoulder, taking the abrupt silence and an affirmative nod as acceptance. "She's human. It's out of my hands. Right?"

Wesley imperceptibly shrugged, fully granting Angel permission to make the choice.

They rode the distance back to Cordelia's in silence. Angel deposited Wesley in front of the apartment before driving a half-block further for a parking space on the street. He was tempted to keep driving, to go find the Kwaini or Madame Dorian. But other than kill the former and verbally thrash the latter, there wasn't much else he could do. Instead, he practiced his parallel parking for fifteen minutes.

While missing The Oracles something awful.

-0-

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