Hotwire
by Christine Morgan
christine@sabledrake.com / http://www.christine-morgan.org


Author's Note: the characters of Gargoyles are the property of Disney and
used here without their creators' knowledge or consent. Mature readers only,
please, due to strong language.

#44 in an ongoing saga.


"This place is driving me nuts," T.J. Lawton said.
Alexander Xanatos looked hurt. "You don't like it here?"
"It's not that," T.J. hastily assured his younger half-brother, then
gestured around. "It's just -- the trailer I grew up in would fit in here with
room to drive a Chevy around it. This place -- it's too big. Not to mention
dark, creepy, and just goddam weird. Sorry, kid, but it is!"
"And you don't like the gargoyles," Alex said with a wisdom
beyond his four years. "They scare you."
"They don't scare ... okay, so they scare me," T.J. admitted, after a
quick glance to be sure nobody heard him say so. "Sure, Fox and your dad
tried to tell me, but it's one thing to hear about it, and another thing be
standing there when all of a sudden rock goes flying every which way and
there's these huge monsters in your face."
"They're not monsters," Alex protested.
"I know, I know." T.J. ran a hand through his hair and sighed. "But
they're not normal, either."
"Nobody here is!" Alex said proudly. "That's what's best!"
T.J. looked at him for a long time. "If you say so. It's just all a lot
to get used to, you know? I mean, I wind up in Maine with hardly any idea
how I got there, kidnap a kid I've never seen before for no good reason, get in a
fight with a gross fish-man on an island in the middle of nowhere, magic's
flinging in all directions and some of it's coming from me ... and then I find
out that the mom of the kid I grabbed is really my own mom too, and before
I know what's happened, here I am in New York. Where I'm taken to a for-
Chrissake's castle on top of the tallest building in the world, introduced to
the butler, who turns out to be a fairy --"
"You shouldn't say it like it's a bad thing," Alex cut in. "We're part
fairy, too."
T.J. grimaced. "There's also a chick training to be a witch, the
gargoyles, and a cop whose brother is a winged panther-man. And the
robots, battle armor, helicopters, weapons, and other assorted shit. Sorry.
Stuff. Other assorted stuff."
"So why don't you like it?" Alex asked in all innocence. "Isn't it
neat?"
"Neat? Sure, in a movie it would be neat. In real life, though, it's
kinda hard to take. I mean, what the hell is a guy like me doing in a place
like this?"
"Learning, like me." His little face went solemn. "We have to know
how to protect ourselves from Grandma, and Oberon. In case they try to get
us. It's like school."
"I've had it with school, that's the thing. Never did plan to go to
college. Now I'm here, and your dad wants me to work with computers.
What am I going to do with a computer? Or robots, what do I know about
robots? He's got guys who cruised through MIT and Stanford on full
scholarships."
"Lex can teach you about computers," Alex said. "He's real smart!"
"Too smart for me! I can't understand half of what he says." T.J.
shook his head. "I'm a mechanic, a good one, but it's the rest of it that I can't
deal with."
"You're not going to leave, are you?"
"I'm not going back to Joshua Flats, that's for damn sure. But I
don't know about living in this castle. If I could get a real job, an apartment
..." he sighed. "No, I could never afford it. But I gotta do something more
than hang around this castle waiting for the Boogeyman from Avalon to
come and get me. And I'm not gonna blow my time studying, especially
not rhyming fairy spells!"
"You could help Brooklyn fix his motorcycle," Alex suggested.
"He about gave up on it. Even Lex can't make it go."
"Why, what's wrong with it?"
Alex shrugged. "It won't go."
"Won't go, huh? Well ..."

* *

T.J. stepped out of the elevator and inhaled the scents of oil and
metal. This was what he'd been missing! Not having his own wheels made
him feel unsettled. He missed his old junker and his job at the garage more
than he missed any of his friends.
Xanatos, now, his fleet of rolling iron put the nicest cars in Joshua
Flats to shame. T.J. ran a hand admiringly along the sleek flank of a Ferrari
so black that light seemed to fall into it. He passed a silver-grey Rolls, a
cobalt-blue Mercedes that belonged to Fox, and the rest of the collection.
Further back was the staff parking area -- even the goddam night shift
janitor drove a Lexus!
In the furthest corner from the elevator was a corrugated metal
door rolled halfway up. Intermittent sparks and flashes came from that
direction, accompanied by the whirr and clang of tools, low voices, and
laughter.
He headed that way, pausing to muster his nerve behind an
enormous dark luxury van with tinted windows, then continuing on before
he could chicken out.
"Hey, dudes, what's going on?" he asked as casually as he could.
They looked up, and their demonic faces in the capering light of
the blowtorch nearly made T.J. piss himself. He just knew they were going to
jump him, unzip his guts ...
Instead, they grinned at him in surprise.
"T.J.!" Lex said, shoving up his welder's mask. "What brings you
down here?"
"Yeah," Brooklyn chimed in sardonically. "Thought you steered
clear of the castle monsters."
He coughed self-consciously and shoved his hands in his pockets.
"Uh, well, Alex said you guys were having some trouble with your wheels.
Thought maybe I'd take a look."
"Be my guest!" Lex waved at the pile of parts. "It was working
fine, until Brooklyn blew it up!"
"Well, you're the one who crashed it in the first place," Brooklyn
retorted.
"Yeah, but then I put it back together! You're the one who had
to go joyriding with a biker gang! Kindred spirits, my tail!"
"That was five years ago. How long are you going to keep
throwing it in my face?"
"Until we get this bike fixed," Lex said.
"If you'd just finish it, then, and quit the 'wait, I got an idea,'
thing, maybe it would be done by now!"
"You've been working on it for five years?" T.J. butted in,
surveying the pieces with new interest.
"Well, off and on," Brooklyn said, scratching his head. "Other
things kept getting in the way. People trying to kill us, magic spells --"
"Angela," Lex added.
"How'd you blow it up, anyway?" T.J. asked, hunkering down and
picking up a curved piece of metal.
"It got shot and exploded. Then it got carted off to the dump and
we barely got there in time to keep it from going in the crusher."
"So why didn't you have Mr. Moneybags --" T.J. jerked his thumb
upward at the towering weight of stone, steel, and glass above them, "-- buy
you a new one?"
Lex laughed. "He wasn't too happy with us at the time. Believe it or
not, he used to be one of the people trying to kill us. Fox, too."
"Yeah?"
"She was your fault," Brooklyn told Lex. "If it wasn't for Alex, I
bet you two still wouldn't be speaking to each other."
"Jeez, I hate coming into things in the middle," T.J. complained,
absently opening his hand to grasp the wrench that sailed smoothly into it.
"Somebody fill me in. If you used to be ... crap, I can't believe I'm gonna say
'enemies,' who the hell has real enemies?"
"Us," Brooklyn said, and proceeded to tell T.J. a long,
complicated, and unbelievable story. At least, it would have been unbelievable if
anybody else were telling it.
While he listened to Brooklyn's tale and Lex's frequent excited
interruptions, his hands worked smoothly, fitting pieces together. Whichever
one he needed next floated up right on cue, and he never picked up the
wrong size bolt.
"Wow," Lex breathed, seeing the pile of parts start to come
together in a coherent, motorcycle-like shape. "Think you can get it
running?"
"Sure," T.J. replied. "Might need to order some replacement parts,
unless you've got a junk pile I can scrounge in."
"Right over there." Brooklyn pointed to another door, this one
padlocked. "That's where Xanatos puts all his busted vehicles until he
decides what to do with them. I think there's even some Steel Clan leftovers
in there, the ones his cleanup crew had to sweep up."
"Yeah, the ones too mangled to fix." Lex beamed proudly.
"Courtesy of us, mostly."
T.J. stood and brushed his grimy hands on his jeans. "Let's go take
a look."
"Lex, you got a key?" Brooklyn asked.
"No, but I'll run up and get one from Owen."
"Don't bother." T.J. closed a fist around the padlock. Energy
jumped from his fingers with a loud snap, and the hasp popped open.
"Cool," Brooklyn observed.
Lex opened the door and whistled. "We could build a dozen
bikes!"
"Nah," T.J. said, "but we could put a sidecar on the one you've
got."
"Hey, yeah, let's do it!"
"Won't that slow it down?" Brooklyn argued.
T.J. snorted. "What, you got a need for speed? In that traffic?
Now, if you were in my hometown, hundreds of miles of two-lane
blacktop with nothing else in sight, then you could crank her up to one-
twenty easy. But in this city, unless you're driving on the sidewalks --"
"You'd be surprised how empty the streets are in the middle of the
night," Lex said.
"I got it up to seventy the time it blew up," Brooklyn said. "For a
couple blocks, anyway. Besides, it's the principle of the thing. If we're going
to fix it up, shouldn't we make it go as fast as we can?"
"You'll have to excuse him," Lex said. "He feels the mating-noose
tightening, so he's got to have one last wild daredevil stunt before Angela
reels him in."
Brooklyn mock-swung at him. "Look who's talking! Aiden's got
you netted, scaled, and de-boned!"
"Isn't that the truth!" Lex said with a ribald wink.
T.J. twitched, startled. He'd actually been thinking of them as real
guys, and it wasn't until they mentioned Aiden, the sorceress-chick, that he
remembered they were gargoyles.
"Uh, listen ..." he began so uncertainly that they left off their good-
natured teasing and looked at him. "Uh ... I don't wanna sound like a
species-ist rat, but ..."
"But it bugs you that Lex and Aiden are doing the horizontal
mambo?" Brooklyn finished.
"If she heard you say that, she'd zap you into the next century," Lex
said, jabbing him in the bicep.
"Well, yeah," T.J. said heavily. "I mean, you guys seem okay and
everything ... anybody who appreciates a good set of wheels can't be all bad
... but ..."
"We were just thinking the same thing about you," Brooklyn said.
"It's okay," Lex said. "I know what you're saying. One of my own
rookery brothers, who shall remain nameless --" he jabbed Brooklyn again,
"thinks Goliath and I are queer for humans."
"I never said that!" He flushed maroon. "Not out loud, anyway."
"Anyway, the point is, it's our business. It's not like we're here to
seduce all your womenfolk, so there's no point feeling threatened."
"Hey!" T.J. raised both hands, palms out. "Did I say I was
threatened? You're right. It's none of my business. If it bugs me, it's my
problem, not yours."
"Besides," Brooklyn said, "Only one of Fox's parents is human."
"Don't remind me! Sometimes I think I'm the only normal person in
the whole damn place, and then I remember that I'm not!"
"So who'd want to be?" Lex asked. "Come on, are we going to
build a bike, or are we going to stand here discussing race relations all
night?"

* *

An engine revved.
Sputtered.
Went dead.
"Try it again!" Brooklyn urged.
Lex did, twisting the throttle.
A stinking cloud of blue smoke belched from the tailpipe. The
engine ran choppily for about ten seconds, then cut out.
"Hang on, let me try something." T.J. fiddled with the fuel line,
then slapped his palm flat against the side of the bike. It roared into life,
then settled into a deep, powerful rumble.
"All right!" Lex cheered. The three of them swapped high-fives
all around.
"I think we're done," T.J. said. "Not bad for a week's work!"
"I still don't know about the sidecar." Brooklyn clambered into it
and bounced experimentally. "How about a test-drive?"
"Don't you think people might notice?" T.J. asked skeptically.
"You guys kind of stand out."
"I've got helmets," Lex said, bounding off the bike and digging
through a footlocker. "Here's yours, Brooklyn, the one with the holes in it."
T.J. watched them, shaking his head. "So you're telling me that
gargoyles riding down the street with helmets on isn't going to attract
attention?"
Brooklyn donned his, then produced a beat-up black leather jacket
with chains dangling off the shoulders, and two big rips in the back. "This'll
help."
"Oh, man!" T.J. laughed.
"Come on!" Lex said. "Where's your sense of adventure? Come
with us!"
"Where are you going, anyway?"
"Yeah, where are we going?" Brooklyn asked. "He's got a point --
we're not exactly inconspicuous. It's not like we could walk into a bar."
"Okay, okay." Lex thought for a moment, and then his face lit up.
"I've got an idea! Be right back!" He raced into the shadows of the garage,
and moments later they heard the soft *ding!* of the elevator being
summoned.
"This oughtta be good," Brooklyn muttered.
"Too bad you can't walk into a bar," T.J. said. "I'm dying for a
beer."
"Xanatos has got beer. Did you check the study fridge?"
T.J. rolled his eyes. "No, beer! Not that coffee-colored European
shit! A Miller's, a Bud! Hell, even a Coors! I'm no alky like the old man, but
every now and then a beer hits the spot."
"Yeah, I could use one too, now that you mention it."
While they waited for Lex to return and tell them his brilliant idea,
they put away the last of the tools and rolled the bike out into the garage.
Brooklyn rubbed it with a rag, clearing away the last of the grease and
fingerprints.
*ding!*
Lex reappeared, grinning like a maniac. "Look what I've got!" He
waved two wristwatches at them.
"Gee, great!" Brooklyn took one. "It's ten-forty. Thanks, Lex."
"It's magic, wise guy! Aiden made them. Enchanted them. Watch."
"Yeah, watch. Wrist watch."
"Shut up and pay attention!" Lex put it on, and twisted the stem.
The air around him rippled and all of a sudden he was human, a small, wiry
human with brown hair.
"Damn!" T.J. blurted.
"Hey, all right!" Brooklyn copied Lex's movements, and turned
into a long-haired rebellious-looking blond dude. "Did she make these for each
of us?"
"Yeah, after our trip to Disneyland. She said it wasn't fair that we
should miss out on all the fun. So now we can at least look human."
"You mean it's a trick? A special effect?" T.J. experimentally
prodded with his toe where Brooklyn's tail had been.
"Ow! Hey!"
"Sorry. So how long does this last?"
"Long as we leave the watches on. So, what do you want to do?"
"Go to a bar!" T.J. and Brooklyn said together.

* *

"Pitbull's," Brooklyn read. "Live music. Friday -- Collision Course.
Saturday -- We Killed Kenny."
"Looks good to me," T.J. said. He glanced at Lex. "How'd you hear
about it?"
"Birdie. Aiden's friend. I don't think you've met her yet."
"That the chick who's in jail?"
"She's out now. Her uncle got her out."
"Nice friends your woman has," he remarked.
"What are we waiting for? Let's go in." Brooklyn pushed the door
open. A wave of voices, music and smoke washed over him.
Pitbull's was shaped like an L. The long section was devoted to the
bar itself, a bunch of small booths, pool tables, and a row of ancient pinball
machines and video games. A rail separated it from the other section, which
was sunken with a flight of wide steps leading down to the dance floor.
The ceiling was low, there were no appreciable windows except the
two flanking the door (and those were cluttered with neon signs advertising
brands of beer). A television was bolted above the bar, currently showing a
basketball game that nobody seemed to be paying much attention to.
"Hey!" some guy hollered.
T.J., Lex, and Brooklyn looked his way. He was a short man with a
face like a mean little dog, and it didn't take a Ph.D. to figure out that this
must be Pitbull. He thrust a finger at them. "You punks better not be
planning to start trouble!"
"No, sir," Brooklyn said in a respectful tone that didn't match his
bad-boy image. "Just want a few beers."
"That kid old enough to drink?"
Lex sighed and dug into what appeared to be a pocket but was
probably the pouch he wore on his belt. "Why do I have the feeling I'm still
going to get carded when I'm Hudson's age?"
Pitbull scrutinized the ID, then returned it with a noncommittal
grunt.
Taking that as an okay, they threaded their way past the pool
players and found a round table next to the rail overlooking the dance floor.
A tired young woman in a black skirt and low-cut red blouse came over.
"What'll it be?"
"Miller Genuine," T.J. said.
"Make it three," Brooklyn said. As she left, he grinned at Lex.
"This is great! We're just part of the crowd!"
Lex picked up a laminated upright triangle from the middle of the
table. "I'm going to get nachos. Anybody else want something?"
"Spicy buffalo wings?" Brooklyn asked. He got a worried
expression. "Hey, is my disguise still working? That girl keeps looking at
me."
"She's scoping you out, dude," T.J. explained.
"No kidding?" Brooklyn straightened up and preened a little.
"Better watch it, loverboy," Lex warned. "Angela would nail your
wings to the wall if she found out!"
"I'm not going to do anything," Brooklyn said, flashing a winning
smile at the girl. She smiled back, then quickly turned away to whisper with
her friends. Now more feminine glances were headed their way, checking
out all three of them.
"Now you've done it," T.J. groaned. "They're already calling dibs!"
"Good for them. Shows they've got taste. We're the best-looking
guys in the place. Hey, Lex, the redhead's got her eye on you!"
The waitress brought their beers and returned to the kitchen for the
food.
"She's doomed to disappointment," Lex said, taking a long drink.
"I'm taken."
"So am I, but I'm not dead!"
"Yeah, you can read the menu all you want, you just can't order
anything," T.J. said.

* *

"I can't believe she asked me to dance," Brooklyn said, returning to
the table.
"I can't believe you said yes," Lex replied, slurring a little so that
'yes' came out 'yesh.'
The nachos were down to a few chip crumbs and blobs of salsa,
and they were on their fourth round of beers. The place was packed, the band
having started their second set at midnight. A couple of tables over, two big
guys in T-shirts were arm-wrestling while several other people looked on.
"I didn't want to be rude."
"Yeah?" Lex asked, hoisting a brow ridge. "What if she asked you
to take her out back and do her standing up in the alley?"
For a minute, T.J. thought Brooklyn might pound on Lex, but then
he smiled. "I guess I'd just have to be rude."
"I think you've had one too many," T.J. declared, sliding Lex's beer
away from him. "And no way I'm getting in that sidecar if you're driving."
"But we've got to drive," Lex objected. "I'm too drunk to glide!"
"No you're not!" Brooklyn said. "You were tossing back stronger
booze than this at Goliath's bachelor party, and it barely affected you!"
"You're only saying that because you don't remember a single thing
that happened that night."
"I do so!"
"You were still hungover when you woke up the next evening!"
"I remember Godiva!"
"Well, yeah, okay, she's pretty unforgettable."
"Who's Godiva?" T.J. asked.
"Robot stripper," is what he thought Lex said.
"Say what?"
"No, really," Brooklyn said. "Xanatos had her built for the
occasion. And was she ever built!"
"Did Angela let you keep the panties she threw at you?" Lex asked.
"I told her I'd get rid of them." Brooklyn drained his beer. "And
someday I will."
"Lemme get this straight --" T.J. began.
"Hoo, yeah, Godiva was great at getting things straight!" Lex
attempted a wolf-whistle.
"But a robot?"
"More of ananadroid," Lex said with some difficulty. "An android.
But then she got possessed and turned to a pillar of salt. Hey! Maybe you
could fix her!"
"Maybe you should tell me this story when you're sober," T.J. said.
"Is that Birdie?" Brooklyn shot to his feet and stuck his arm in the
air. "Birdie!"
The chick headed their way looked nothing like T.J.'s mental
picture. Because she was a friend of Aiden's, he'd automatically assumed
that she was the same type of shy, mousy kind of girl. This despite all the stuff
he'd heard to the contrary -- jail, for instance, or the fact that she'd told Lex
about this place, the sort of place a girl like Aiden wouldn't be caught dead
in without a guard dog and a fire extinguisher full of Mace.
Birdie had a riot of dark curly hair with a dyed purple blaze at the
front, and four or five earrings in each ear. She wore black jeans and a black
velvet tank top cut low to show a rose tattoo. She was maybe forty pounds
overweight and walked like she didn't give a damn about it at all.
T.J. tried to picture her and Aiden hanging out together and it made
his brain hurt.
She sauntered toward Brooklyn. "The voice is familiar, but I can't
place the face."
He grinned. "Wet loincloth contest."
She sat down hard, luckily in a vacant chair. "Brooklyn?"
"Wet what?" T.J. asked Lex.
"She pushed him in the pool last Thanksgiving."
"Lex!" She reached over and rubbed his head, apparently ruffling
his hair. "How you doing, spider-monkey? Where's Fergs?"
"Don't call me that!" He squirmed away. "She's home studying.
Finishing up her semester project."
"I am so glad I graduated early!" Birdie declared. "St. John would
have expelled me for sure. Can't have a Sterling Academy student with a
police record!" She turned to T.J. "Hi. Have we met and is that how you
really look?"
"Hi," he said. "Far as I know, this is the real me."
"This is T.J.," Brooklyn said. "T.J., may I present Miss Roberta
Yale."
"Ugh! Watch it, red, don't make me take you outside!"
"Yeah, he might have to be rude to you," Lex snickered.
"What are you doing here, anyway?" Brooklyn asked.
Birdie groaned and shook her head. "Had to get out of the house.
My folks were making me crazy. Ever since that thing with Aunt Margot,
Mom's been a basket case. Her shrink is telling her that it's all her fault for
being too permissive with me. She keeps asking Dad things like --" her
voice changed, climbed, became a mother's long-suffering tones, "Where did
we go wrong, Charles?"
"You should move out," Lex said. "You're a friend of the clan;
there's always room for you at the castle."
"Thanks, Lex, but I don't think so. Being the only normal person
there might give me a complex."
T.J. sat up straight. "Jeez, I know what you mean!"
"Elisa said she'd help me find an apartment, maybe over in the
Village -- us quirky artistic types gotta stick together -- but first I've got to
convince Dad to let me at the trust fund Grandma left me. She set it up so I
could go to the Academy, but it's still under his control until I turn twenty-
five. As it stands right now, I couldn't swing rent without a roomie, and
finding one who'll put up with the weirdness quotient in my life would be
tough. Even in the Village."
"Hey if you ever find a place, let me know," T.J. said. "I've put up
with a hell of a lot of weirdness lately."
"Aw, I thought you liked us now," Lex said.
Brooklyn elbowed him and leered. "Yeah, but if you had a chance
to share an apartment with a wild woman like Birdie, would you turn it
down?"
"Get your mind out of the gutter, red," she replied archly, crossing
her legs. "I'm not that kind of a girl. I don't go around preying on cute guys."
He mimed opening an envelope. "And the Academy Award for
Best Actress goes to --"
"You want that beer down your throat or down your front?" she
threatened.
T.J. coughed. "Uh, hey, I didn't mean ..."
"Uh-oh," Lex interrupted. "I spy with my little eye something that
begins with Q."
The rest of them looked at him like he'd gone bonkers, but then
turned to see what had captured his attention. He was staring at the arm-
wrestling, which had turned into a full-blown competition for beers. The
current champion was about to be dethroned by a guy with arms like
treetrunks and a dark blue tattoo of a hammer on one bulging bicep. Three
other body-builder types stood behind him cheering him on. All of them
sported similar tattoos.
Brooklyn set down his drink with a decisive thump. "All right, that
tears it!"
"Oh, great, he's passed merry and into belligerent," Birdie
observed. "Don't do anything stupid. Let's just get out of here."
"No way. We were here first, and I'm not going to let those jerks
run us off." A savage grin rippled across his face.
"They don't even know we're here," Lex said, sobering up a little.
"Don't blow our cover."
"I won't. I just want to beat them at their own game."
"Famous last words," Birdie sighed. She picked up Brooklyn's beer
and polished it off.
The plainclothes Quarryman bested his opponent with such a show
of strength that Brooklyn, halfway out of his chair, hesitated. Then bristled
as he saw the man take a long, speculative look at the girl Brooklyn had
danced with, and her flirtatious response.
He walked into the middle of the back-clapping crowd. "Don't
congratulate yourself yet," he said.
The man with the tattoo looked him over, then laughed. "Why not?
You don't think you're going to beat me?"
"That's exactly what I think." Brooklyn sat down opposite him and
propped his left elbow on the table.
Laughter erupted, loudest from the man and his buddies. "Come
on, Frank! Whup this skinny kid's ass and send him running home to mommy!"
"Sure," Brooklyn said, and there was something in his smile that
cut through their laughter. "Come on, Frank."
Lex sprang onto his chair, teetered a little, almost ended up in
Birdie's lap, then found his balance. "I got twenty bucks says my friend can
whup your ass!"
"Okay, junior," one of the other men said, pulling out a twenty.
"You've got a bet."
Birdie sighed. "Boys will be boys."
Frank planted his left elbow on the table too, and he and Brooklyn
locked hands. The muscles all up Frank's arm bunched and he tried to slam
Brooklyn's arm flat with one easy gesture.
And failed. Brooklyn's grin widened as Frank's turned a look of
surprise. Then Frank's macho pride took over, and he threw himself
wholeheartedly into the contest.
Brooklyn strained a little, just a little, and Frank's arm began tilting
the other way. His buddies shouted incredulously. Beads of sweat broke out
on Frank's face.
"What the hell's the matter with you?" the man who had twenty
bucks riding on this contest demanded. "Show this biker punk who's boss!"
"Yeah, show me, Frank," Brooklyn said in a low, soft, yet carrying
voice. "Or are you not so tough without your hammer and hood?"
"Don't get carried away, red," Birdie murmured.
Brooklyn's words startled the crowd, who looked apprehensively at
Frank and his buddies.
"I heard those Quarryman guys busted up a club over on Ninth,"
someone said.
"Crazy bastards, seeing gargoyles everywhere!" someone else said.
"What the hell would gargoyles be doing in a nightclub?"
"They're not the only threat!" the guy who had a bet going with Lex
said. "It's the goddam gargoyle sympathizers that are wrecking this city!"
"Yeah, it's the gargoyle sympathizers who have rallies that turn
into riots," Lex sneered. "It's the gargoyle sympathizers who shoot up the
city and break all the statues. Why didn't we see it before?"
Several people laughed.
T.J. pushed his glass away. "I don't think I like the direction this is
going."
"Me either. Let's get those two out of here before they start a
rumble."
Frank, teeth gritted and cords standing out in his neck, put
everything he had into it. Brooklyn's arm dipped, held, and then began to
push Frank's back the other way.
"Punk shithead must be on drugs!" Frank grabbed Brooklyn's
wrist with his other hand and tried to force it over.
The effort tore the band of Brooklyn's watch. It ripped away and
fell twinkling to the tabletop.
The illusion disguise winked out.
"Oh, crapola," Lex said quite clearly.
In the stunned moment before pandemonium took over, T.J. said,
"When I mentioned dying for a beer, this wasn't what I had in mind."
Frank, suddenly finding himself holding onto a flesh-and-blood
gargoyle with both hands, shrieked and recoiled, toppling his chair and
going sprawling.
That set everybody off. The nearest of Frank's buddies bellowed
and jumped at Brooklyn, but was blocked by the panicked rush of other
people trying to go the other way. Lex sprang over their heads and snatched
the twenty from the loser of the bet.
Somebody pushed somebody else, another person tripped, and then
like a match to a keg of gunpowder, the whole place went up in a
spontaneous bar-fight.
The first person to land a blow on Brooklyn was the girl he'd
danced with. She slapped him so hard that T.J. half expected his beak to
spin around his head like Daffy Duck taking a shotgun blast. She screamed
something at him, too, but over the din, T.J. couldn't make it out.
One of Frank's other friends grabbed at Lex, caught him around
what appeared to be his waist and got a handful of wing. He yelped in
surprise, then cried out, "He's one, too!"
Lex scooped a tray of drinks from the thunderstruck waitress and
upended it over his foe, then scrambled to the dubious safety of the bar.
The chaotic tide shoved T.J. and Birdie one way, Brooklyn the
other, as the people from the dance floor caught the spreading wildfire panic
and stampeded toward the door. T.J. found himself squashed into the short
hallway leading to the bathrooms, with a pay phone jammed against his
back and Birdie jammed against his front.
"Get out!" Brooklyn hollered, waving at them. "Don't worry about
us!" With that, he spun and drove his elbow into Frank's gut, then smashed a
chair over his head.
One of Frank's buddies loomed in Brooklyn's blind spot, and T.J.
reacted without thinking. The nearest pinball machine spat a sudden stream
of quarters that peppered the man like a machine gun. Yelping, he leaped
right over the bar. Lex dodged as the man slammed into the shelves of
bottles and went down in a jingling hail of broken glass.
The last of the Quarrymen broke away from the fight and charged
toward Birdie and T.J. She stuck out her foot and he skidded on his face
down the short hallway, bouncing off a door marked 'Emergency Exit Only.'
He lunged to his feet, threw her a look and an angry, "I'll get you for that,
bitch!" and banged through the door into the alley.
"Come on!" she called, chasing after the man.
"Where the hell are you going?"
"I know where he's going!"
T.J. hesitated. Behind him, it was hard to tell just who was
winning, but Brooklyn and Lex seemed to be making their way toward the front
door relatively unscathed. There was no way he could get through the melee and
reach them. So he turned and went after Birdie.
The alley let onto a parking lot about the size of a postage stamp,
crammed with cars. One van, electric-blue under the sodium glare of the
single streetlight, had its side door standing open. As T.J. emerged from the
alley, the Quarryman got out of the van carrying a hammer.
Birdie darted out from behind a car, moving pretty quick for a
chick her size, T.J. noticed, and shouted, "Hey, hammerhead! Over here!"
"You people just don't know when you've had enough, do you?" he
spat, advancing on her.
"Nope," she admitted cheerfully.
"Get outta my way! I've got gargs to kill!"
"Move me, you chickenshit s.o.b.," she challenged.
He swung, making a colossal dent in the hood of a Ford Taurus.
"That could've been you. Now --"
T.J.'s eyes narrowed, and the mangled hood popped up and caught
the man just under the chin. He executed a complete back-over flip and
landed facedown, out cold. His hammer slid under a Honda.
Birdie regarded this for a moment with some surprise, then hopped
into the open back of the van.
"Mind telling me what you think you're doing?" T.J. asked, looking
in. His jaw dropped when he saw that the interior was packed with
computers, surveillance equipment, and weapons, including an entire rack of
hammers.
"These creeps never go anywhere without their toys," Birdie
explained.
"Toys, shit! This is a goddam rolling arsenal!"
"Hey, look!" She pointed to a glowing screen, on which two
winged shapes were clearly defined. "Party's over, or at least the guests of
honor are skipping out early."
"Some sort of radar," T.J. guessed. "They're headed for where we
parked the bike."
"That means Frank and his pals are going to come looking for their
mean machine." She squeezed into the front and dropped into the driver's
seat. "No keys, of course."
"What, you're going to steal it?"
"Hey, I stole Elisa's car once!" She checked the visor and under
the floormat, and cursed. "But I had the keys, which helped!"
T.J. opened his mouth to argue, and then saw Frank and the other
Quarrymen burst out the emergency exit. "Problem!" He threw the side door
shut and jumped into the passenger seat. "Ready?"
"For what?"
He slapped his palm against the steering column. Electricity jolted
from his hand and the van's engine started.
Birdie glanced at him from beneath very high eyebrows, but she
didn't waste time with questions and threw the van into gear. "Buckle up!"
The Quarrymen started hollering and running toward the van.
Frank was closest, and leaped and clung onto the mirror on T.J.'s side. The
window was open about four inches, and Frank thrust his hand through.
"Stop the damn van, kid!"
"Get that bug off there, wouldja?" Birdie said brassily.
T.J., securely buckled in, popped the door open hard and fast.
Frank lost his grip and fell backwards out of sight.
The van bounced over the curb and into the street, narrowly missed
some people fleeing Pitbull's. Horns blared all around them and they came
within inches of sideswiping a grandmotherly-looking lady in a Pinto. The
grandmotherly-looking lady screeched an obscenity and flipped them off.
Ahead of them, more horns and squealing tires marked the path of
a motorcycle that might have gone unnoticed except that the driver was a
scarlet demon in a leather jacket, and a young guy was clinging to the back
with his feet flying in the air.
The van closed, and T.J. saw Brooklyn throw a quick, worried look
over his shoulder. T.J. realized the tinted glass prevented him from
recognizing them, so he cranked down the window on his side to wave him
on.
Brooklyn's stare turned amazed, then he exploded with laughter.
The bike and the van rounded a corner and here came two police
cars with sirens wailing and lights flashing. Both cars swerved as the
officers got a look at the biker speeding past.
"My probation officer's going to kill me," Birdie moaned.
"So don't get pulled over." T.J. shook his head. "And they were
telling me the traffic wasn't so bad late at night!"
A speaker mounted below the dashboard came to life in a hiss of
static, and a female voice barked, "Hammer Four reports target activity!
All units, converge --"
"He must've called for backup," T.J. said over the woman rattling
off the address of Pitbull's.
"Shut up a second!" Birdie cranked the volume knob.
"Hammer Four, respond, what's your status?"
"Fuck me sideways, that's Aunt Margot!" she cried, and damn near
ran into a delivery truck.
"You wanna say hello?"
"Are you kidding?" Birdie's face went almost as purple as the
streak in her hair. "That unbelievable bitch! I knew she had something going on
with Castaway, but I never thought she'd actually end up working with
them! I wish I could reach right through that radio and --"
"Allow me." T.J. pressed his fingertips to it, and winced as there
was a snap, a spark, a whiff of ozone, and a startled scream and a torrent of
expletives before the speaker fell out of its socket in a tangle of wires.
"Okay, this time I've got to ask," Birdie said. "What the hell is
that?"
"I'm not one of the normal people," T.J. admitted.

* *

Elisa Maza was on her way home from the all-night deli when she
heard the news over the police band. Cursing to herself, she brought her
Fairlane around in a neat 180, the brown bag on the passenger seat going
over and spilling wrapped packages of cold cuts and tubs of pasta salad onto
the floor.
She approached an intersection with her siren wailing and saw two
large vans veer out of the cross streets and halt nose-to-nose. Men in dark
blue bodysuits sprang out of the vans and took up their positions by the
impromptu roadblock. She braked and got out, drawing her gun.
A motorcycle was coming flat-out, with a third van in pursuit. As it
passed beneath a streetlight, Elisa was horrified but not particularly
surprised to recognize Brooklyn, and Lex's illusion disguise.
Just then, the world went a little bit crazy. The motorcycle sailed
into the air on a smooth, impossible trajectory without benefit of a ramp.
Everyone on the street, Quarrymen, pedestrians, and Elisa, turned to stare as
the bike passed in front of the full moon, then descended into the street
again.
The third van plowed into the other two, shouldering them aside
like a greedy piglet trying to be first to reach momma. Quarrymen scattered.
Elisa flattened herself against the side of her car as the van roared past. Its
horn tooted "shave and a haircut."
"What the ...?" Ignoring the Quarrymen, she hopped back in her
car and spun around to pursue the rogue van.

* *

"Not bad driving, but I think that last trick crunched the engine,"
T.J. said. "I can't fix it unless you stop."
"That was pretty cool, what you did with the bike!" Birdie beamed
at him. "I think I've seen it before, though."
"I knew if they had to bail and glide for it, the bike would get
wrecked again. After all that hard work, I just couldn't stand it."
Something twanged deep in the heart of the van, and smoke

belched from under the crimped hood. They began to slow.
"Looks like the ride's over." Birdie hunted around, then pulled into
an alley. "We hope you choose Trans-Bird Van Lines for all your future
travel needs."
"Yeah, don't count on it!"
They laughed as the van coughed and stalled out, and then they
were sitting in the shadows illuminated only by the undersea green glow of
the various monitors.
"Can you patch it up enough to get to the castle?" Birdie asked. "I
don't mind walking, but I bet Xanatos' people would love to get a peek at all
this gear. If we can keep tabs on the Quarrymen using their own
frequencies ..."
T.J. groaned. "You're in on this nutball crusade, too?"
"Hey, I have to be! We're talking about the survival of my friends,
here!"
"Yeah, but going up against these guys? When you're just a --"
"Just a what? If you say 'just a chick,' Sunny Jim, I'll boot your
heinie from one end of the street to the other."
"Just a normal person," he finished.
"So? Are you saying someone can't do what's right unless they've
got wings or magic powers or a powered exo-suit? How about Elisa? Matt?
Rick?"
"But ... I don't know _what_ I'm saying." He thumped his head
against the back of the seat and shut his eyes.
"If anybody should be in on this 'nutball crusade,' it should be
you."
One eye opened. "Why me?"
"Come on, look at the stuff you can do! You shouldn't let it go to
waste!"
"What, just because I'm a freak, I should get a superhero complex
like everyone else at the castle?" He slouched in his seat and hiked his feet
against the dashboard. "No thanks. I'm not putting on a cape."
"Betcha you'd look cute in tights, though!"
"Yeah, right! And you can wear spike-heeled boots and a leotard
and be my sidekick."
"I'm game."
Both eyes opened. "You're totally insane, you know?"
"I've worked hard to become so," she replied in someone else's
voice, making him sure she was quoting some movie. Then, as herself again,
she went on. "Listen, T.J., you could really help out if you just put your
mind to it."
"What makes you think I'd want to?"
"You seem like a decent, honest kind of guy."
"Great, you're on probation and I'm a kidnapper and we're sitting
here in a stolen van discussing honesty."
"Well, hey! You ever see yourself zapping an ATM? Hijacking a
plane? Holding a city hostage?"
"No."
"So, see, you're not inclined to --"
"Don't you dare say 'use your powers for evil.' I'll hurl if you do."
She fluttered her eyelids at him. "I bet you say that to all the girls."
"Look, up until a few weeks ago, I didn't even realize I had these
..." he dragged the word reluctantly out of his mouth, "...powers. Stuff
happened before; I could fix anything and start my car without a key and
tools would float around, but I never thought about it. Never did it in front
of anyone, but never thought about it either. It was all like it was ..."
"Unconscious?" she suggested.
"Yeah. I never did it on purpose. Now there's all this shit --" he
waved at the dislocated speaker.
"Don't stress about it; if anyone had a hotfoot coming, it was Aunt
Margot. It was bad enough when she was just a Quarrygroupie. Now she's
working dispatch! I hope she popped some stitches." Birdie glowered
darkly.
Someone tapped on her window. "Okay, open up."
"Busted," T.J. said, recognizing Elisa's voice.
"Don't shoot, copper, we'll throw out our guns," Birdie said, rolling
down the window.
Elisa looked in at both of them, then clapped a hand over her face
and groaned. "I knew it. I just knew it. Birdie, I ought to lock you up for
good."
"Reckless driving, disturbing the peace, grand theft Quarryvan ...
anything else?" she asked brightly.
"DUI," T.J. threw in helpfully.
"One beer, and it hasn't even had time to affect me yet, not with my
body mass!"
"You know, this isn't funny!" Elisa said, having trouble keeping a
straight face. "You could have killed someone. So the least you can do is tell
me the whole story, and then I'll decide if I'm hauling you in or not."

* *

"You should have seen it!" Brooklyn enthused. "The bike just took
off like a rocket!"
"We did see it," David Xanatos replied. "A tourist with a
videocamera caught the whole thing."
"Whoops," Lex said.
"You both behaved very carelessly," Goliath said sternly, making
them squirm like hatchlings. "Brooklyn, as my second-in-command, you
should know better."
He hung his head. "Sorry, Goliath. We just wanted to have a little
fun. Nobody got hurt."
"That dinna mean ye should go unpunished," Hudson declared.
"Oh, great, patrol duty every night," Lex mumbled.
"No." Goliath extended his arm toward the stairs. "Go to the
rookery."
"What?" Brooklyn cried.
"Not again!" Lex said.
"You have a responsibility to act like adults now," Goliath said.
"Your mates plan to breed soon. They will have a clean, comfortable
rookery. You owe it to them, to the clan, and to the hatchlings. Go, and
clean every inch of it, fill it with fresh straw --"
"Where are we going to get straw in Manhattan?" Lex cut in.
Goliath smiled tightly. "That is your problem."
"And another thing, Aiden ..." Xanatos said.
She looked up, startled. "What did I do? I wasn't even there!"
"Those illusions don't show up on film. You might want to work on
that."
"Oh. Okay, Mr. Xanatos."
"So where did T.J. wind up?" Fox demanded.
Brooklyn shrugged. "They were right behind us --"
"You took him out and you lost him?" Her hair began to rise
around her head as if supercharged with static electricity.
"He's with Birdie --" Lex began.
"That's supposed to reassure me?"
"She won't let anything happen to him!" Aiden protested.
"She'll just damn near get him arrested," Elisa finished, crossing
the hall with Birdie and T.J. in tow. "Xanatos, there's a van parked in the
long-term lot at the train station. It's beat to crap, but your people might find
some interesting toys in it." She handed him the parking slip.
"I'll get them right on it. Why the leniency?" He smiled slyly.
"Have I finally corrupted you?"
"Don't flatter yourself. You have more resources than the
department, and hamstringing the Quarrymen is higher on your priority list.
Besides, I was off-shift, and I didn't want to have to fill out all the
paperwork to charge these two."
"They can help Brooklyn and Lex," Fox decided.
Resentment bubbled up in T.J. -- he wasn't a goddam baby, and she
couldn't start telling him what to do after abandoning him. He started to say
it, but then his gaze happened upon Elisa. She was standing a little apart
from the others, and her dark eyes were troubled.
All of a sudden he understood just what this was costing her. She
could have -- should have arrested them. But she hadn't, and it was
wracking her guts. Xanatos was right, she had been corrupted. Not by
anything external like a bribe, but by her own internal feelings about what
was right for the clan and the castle.
If she could do that, the least he could do was swallow his own
pride and take what was coming to him.
A sidelong glance at Birdie told him she'd come to the same
conclusions, for her screw-the-world grin had faded.
"Sure, okay, that's fair," T.J. heard himself say.
"Yeah," Birdie said. "We'll get that place sparkling."
Everyone looked at Elisa. She took a deep breath, exhaled, and
nodded. "Okay. This time."
Goliath nodded too. "There shall not be a next time."
"Come on," Brooklyn said, leading the way.
Following him, Birdie winked at T.J. and chuckled. "A barroom
brawl, a car chase, a close call with jail, and now slave labor. Not bad for a
first date!"

* *

The End.