All the characters appearing in Gargoyles and Gargoyles: The Goliath Chronicles are copyright Buena Vista Television/The Walt Disney Company. No infringement of these copyrights is intended, and is not authorized by the copyright holder. All original characters are the property of Christine Morgan, not Kimberly T.
By Kimberly T. (e-mail: kimbertow at yahoo dot com) Author's note: Set in Christine Morgan's timeline, in 2003.
"Saturday night, and I ain't got nobody!" the singer on the radio wailed out mournfully, as Vanessa maneuvered her beat-up old Ford Festiva into a parking spot in front of the apartment building. Vanessa grumbled back that she didn't really need reminding, as she set the parking brake and shut the radio off in mid-wail.
It wasn't that she didn't have any opportunities available; Vanessa had a 'café-au-lait' complexion, luxuriously long, dark and curly hair, shining dark eyes and decent enough figure, and had been told by guys that she was a fine enough girl to have a date on just about any night she wanted. She even had a few boys she was currently interested in, and could usually find one of them willing to have fun with her on a weekday night. But with the job she had now, Saturday nights were nights to work, not party down like she used to. "Don't mean I gotta like it, though," she grumbled out loud as she got out of the car with the load of pizza boxes, first setting that dorky dinosaur cap more firmly on her head. She'd dearly love to lose the stupid thing down the nearest sewer grating, but then she'd just have to use more of her tip money to buy another one, and she had a few other frivolous items to spend her money on instead, such as rent, food, utilities … "Happy thoughts, girl, happy thoughts," she muttered to herself. It was nearly one a.m. now, this was her last delivery of the night; she just had to get this batch delivered, then she could call it a night and get back to her easel. She pressed the buzzer for apartment 7F, and when the speaker squawked back a query, she plastered a big fake smile on her face and said brightly, "Greetings from the Pizzazoic Era! I have your delivery here!"
The dude on the other end of the speaker buzzed her in, and she rode the elevator up to the seventh floor. At apartment 7F, she rang the doorbell and waited. The door opened, and she said the required spiel as brightly as if she really meant it: "Greetings from the Pizzazoic Era, New York's favorite pizzeria!" Then she got down to business, pulling the pizza boxes out of their thermal covers and glancing at the delivery slip as she said, "I got here three large Carnivorous Rex, extra cheese, and three large Triceratoppings Deluxe. Total comes to $108.36 with tax; will that be cash or check?"
The guy at the door, now digging into his jeans pocket for his wallet, seemed a little familiar but she couldn't place him for the moment. She glanced past him into the apartment, and saw three other guys sitting around amidst a pile of boxes, most still unopened. Looked like a moving party, buddies helping a guy set up in new digs. Nothing unusual about that; it was the second one she'd delivered to tonight… so why did she suddenly get the weird feeling that they were hiding something?
She gave them another quick look, trying to make it look like she wasn't really looking at all. Four white guys including the one at the door, now counting out cash. The one over by the window had long ice-blonde hair tied back in a ponytail and was dressed in typical biker clothes; something about his overall expression said he'd been through rough times, bad times not that long ago. The brown-haired one sitting on a box and fiddling with one of those Palm-Pilot computers was a little on the small side but wiry, like he could maybe handle himself in a pinch. The third one, another blonde but short-cropped, was about twice 'Palm-Pilot's size but had an overall genial look; just a big teddy bear of a guy, like the fellow her little sister back in Louisiana was dating. That left the one at the door, sandy brown hair also tied back in a ponytail, average height and a little on the skinny side. Basically, four totally ordinary guys, doing a totally ordinary thing. So why was she still getting that weird feeling?
'Palm-Pilot' and the biker were looking back at her; now she had the definite feeling they'd noticed her noticing them, and weren't too happy about it. She snapped her eyes back to the guy at the door, who'd just finished counting out the cash. She accepted it with a smile and a quick count for herself. Six dollars and change for a tip; not her biggest tip, but not bad either. She thanked him, said she hoped they enjoyed the pizzas and headed back to the car, deciding that whatever she'd been feeling, whether it was one of her "special" feelings or not, was less important than finishing her shift and getting out of the Pizzazoic Era's official jacket and cap for the night. Less than two minutes later, she was at the curb.
And ten minutes later, she was still at the curb. She'd gone from groaning that she really didn't need this shit tonight, to pleading and cajoling the Festiva to start for her, to cursing it in words and phrases she'd picked up from her great-grandmother when her parents weren't around, and was now back to pleading again. "Pleeease start for Mommy, I promise I'll take you in to the mechanics on Monday, I'll go without food for a week just to get you fixed up again, if you'll pleeeease start!" Finally, she gave up and just leaned forward to rest her forehead against the steering wheel, quietly moaning. Saturday night, now early-early Sunday morning; any mechanic or tow truck operator she could get out of bed at this hour was going to charge her triple-time just to show up…
"Uh, you need a hand?"
Startled, Vanessa jerked her head up again, to see the guy she'd just delivered the pizzas to looking uncertainly at her. Behind him was the big guy who'd also been in the apartment, looking at her with what seemed to be real concern in his eyes. "Yeah, I could use a hand," she said honestly enough. "Either that or a decent funeral for my wheels, here…"
The uncertainty vanished from the guy's demeanor, and he said confidently, "Pop the hood, let me take a look." Vanessa shrugged but popped the hood, figuring that if this guy really was a mechanic willing to do a favor, she was really in gravy and if he was just a "good ol' boy" who thought he was a mechanic, he probably wouldn't make things much worse.
She got out while the first guy started fiddling with things under the hood, and the second guy stood behind his buddy and looked on curiously. She glanced up as she leaned against the door, and noticed two guys leaning out the window from the seventh floor; too far away to make out details, but she thought they might be the rest of the moving party, checking on what their buddies were doing.
After only a minute or so, the first guy stepped back and said, "Okay, get in and try it again." Vanessa mentally crossed her fingers as she climbed back in and turned the key again. At first the car only whined a wimpy little rrrrr again, but she glimpsed through the crack between the raised hood and the car as the guy gave a quick glance to the left and right, then reached out and did something else to the engine. She couldn't see what he did (not that she'd have had the faintest idea of what he was doing anyway; she didn't know spit about car engines), but suddenly the engine caught and turned over, grumbling a little unevenly but working. He fiddled a little bit more, and less than a minute later the engine was purring like a big contented kitten.
"Mister, thank you!" Vanessa said with true gratitude as she rolled the window down to lean out and smile widely at him. "You have just saved this girl's bacon!"
"Aw, it wasn't much," the guy said, looking a little embarrassed, even as his big buddy gave him a congratulatory sock on the arm.
"Maybe not much to you, but it means a lot to me," Vanessa said firmly. "I can't refund the pizzas, but you've more than earned your tip back…"
"Aw, just consider it my good deed for the day or something. Besides, you'll probably need the money to get the engine fixed for real; all I did now was just prolong the inevitable for another month or so."
He started to detail the things her car needed, but Vanessa knew he might as well start writing it down for the mechanic, because she understood car talk about at well as she understood her paternal ancestors' Creole French. Instead, she carefully left the engine running in neutral as she dug around in the back seat for her portfolio, then got out of the car with a hopeful smile on her face. "My name's Vanessa Green; what's yours?" When her replied that he was T.J. Lawton, she asked brightly, "Mr. Lawton, what do you think of the barter system?"
She opened up the portfolio for him to show him samples of her artistic talents; photos and prints of her paintings and sculptures. She'd put a good variety into the portfolio, portraits of ordinary people like her folks and action pics of her brother James at soccer practice as well as her fantasy works of forest elves, mermaids and sea-dragons. She noticed out of the corner of her eye how the big guy's eyes bugged out at her portrayal of Goliath, the leader of the city's gargoyle clan; she'd done that one after taping his appearance on the Elaine! show, and playing that segment about a dozen times in a row while she sketched. When she'd finished flipping though the portfolio she told T.J. with her most winning smile, "I'd like to make you a deal; a full portrait of anybody you like, could be yourself or your sweetheart or the two of you together, in exchange for the labor in fixing up my car. I'll be happy to pay for the parts; it's the labor I can't afford… Y'know, Christmas is coming up, and it'd be a unique gift for the holidays… What do you say?"
"Go for it, T.J.!" the big guy said enthusiastically. "This lady's good!"
"Why, thank you, kind sir!" Vanessa said as she threw him a big smile as well. If only the art dealers and book publishers around here thought so, too, she'd never have to deliver pizzas and wear that dorky hat again.
T.J. finally agreed, telling her that she should bring the car by in two weeks, with a long list of parts that he wrote down for her on the back of a delivery slip. "But give me a little while to decide just who the portrait's going to be of, okay? And can I pass the favor on to somebody else?"
"Sure! That's how the barter system works." And with a final thanks for the work he'd already done for her, Vanessa set off to hand in the money for the night, grinning from ear to ear.
It was after turning in her receipts and money at Pizzazoic, while waving to her buddy Max as he mopped the floor out in the foyer, that Vanessa glimpsed the kiddie machines in the corner and suddenly remembered just where she'd seen that guy before. Right here, in The Pizzazoic Era, about six months ago…
It had been a really, really slow Tuesday night, and she had been sitting in a booth with her cap and jacket off and a glass of ice-water in front of her, in order to look like a customer and make the place seem more full while waiting for another delivery order. She'd been sketching out a few ideas she'd had recently on her ever-present sketchpad, when a largish group sitting in one of the corner booths in the back had caught her attention. A little girl had been bouncing up and down in front of the group, excitedly saying something about a "daga-doll."
She'd glanced up to find a few of the adults in the group looking nervous; one of them, with her golden beige skin and long dark hair undoubtedly the mother of the little girl, had been trying to shush the child while glancing around to see if anyone was noticing the commotion. The man next to her, tall and darker skinned with his hair cut to a 'high-n-tight', had looked ill at ease, too, and so had the guy next to him, whom Vanessa now knew was T.J. Lawton. The other two adults looked perfectly calm and even slightly amused, though the woman with the scarf over her hair and dark glasses (indoors, at night!) undoubtedly had something to hide as well.
There had been three other kids in the group: a white boy with reddish-blonde hair, wearing those kiddie designer jeans that went for $300 a pair; another boy with more standard clothing and dark skin (possibly full-blooded 'brother', but Vanessa was willing to bet he was as mixed-blood as herself); a little girl who was definitely mixed blood, with skin the same shade as Vanessa's but long blonde hair; an exotic beauty in training, had been Vanessa's artistic snap judgement. They'd all clambered out of the booth, slipping out under the table or climbing over it in the determined way kids have, while demanding that the youngest girl show them what she was talking about. She'd led them all over to Ye Toye Shoppe, to point out a toy inside, a purple stuffed gargoyle doll as big as a sofa pillow.
Vanessa had sighed and dropped her gaze to the table, knowing what was going to happen next and not wanting to witness it. Ye Toye Shoppe was one of the biggest rip-offs in the vending machine business; always packed full of stuffed toys of all sizes, from tiny and unbearably cute to big and super-cuddly. And any one of those wonderful stuffed toys could be had for the taking; all one had to do was pop in the required number of quarters, and operate the giant silvery claw on its sliding arm to grab the toy, pick it up and carry it over to the drop box. It looked so easy… and it was such a cheat. The sliding arm was jerky and hard to center on the prize, and the claws themselves were widely gapped and had virtually no strength in them; even if the operator managed to center the claw perfectly and snag the toy dead-center, it would more often than not drop out of the grip before reaching the drop box. Ye Toye Shoppe could be found in shopping centers and kiddie restaurants all over the country, and Vanessa had witnessed on dozens of occasions, tense fathers and boyfriends trying to manipulate the claws to grab a special prize for their loved one, and repeatedly failing. One determined teenager had pumped so many quarters into Ye Toye Shoppe, trying to get a stuffed giraffe for his girlfriend, that it probably would have been cheaper for him to just buy the damn thing straight from Nieman Marcus.
The kids had all gone back to the table, clamoring for quarters so they could get the gargoyle doll out for the youngest child, as well as another toy or two that they had spotted for themselves. The adults had all exchanged resigned glances, and Vanessa had figured that they would come up with enough quarters for each kid to try just once, just so they could all see for themselves how difficult it was. Life is tough, kids, and you don't always get what you want, no matter how hard you beg and pray for it. But instead, she'd glimpsed out of the corner of her eye as she bent over her sketchpad that the man with a blonde shaggy beard had gotten out of the booth, as was the lady with the head scarf and glasses, so the man in the middle—T.J.—could get out. He'd been looking really uneasy, probably wondering why he was being picked out to be sacrificed on the altar of expectations in the kids' eyes, but the blonde bearded man was smiling at him as confidently as if he had no doubts whatsoever that T.J. would be able to do it. So T.J. had gathered the kids round and whispered to them for a second; then they all went over to Ye Toye Shoppe. And as they'd passed Vanessa's table, she'd started to get a very weird feeling shivering its way down from her scalp to between her shoulderblades… That feeling her Great-Grandmother Marcella had always assured her was "the 'hidden eye', starting to open."
She'd almost bolted for the door on the spot, as soon as she felt that feeling. She hadn't gotten that feeling since "Devil's Night," nearly two years ago… That night the entire island of Manhattan had disappeared into a giant, impenetrable, seething red-gray-black mass for a night and a day. People who had been trapped in Manhattan, inside that mass when it sprang up within seconds to envelope the city, said that demons had started pouring out of a massive hole in the ground or started popping up spontaneously throughout the city, possessing the bodies of beautiful women. That night and day, Manhattan had been on first-name terms with Hell itself; thousands had died, and only the actions of the gargoyles in defeating the Demon Prince had kept the entire island from being massacred. They'd managed somehow to sever the connection to Hell and restore the city to normal, though not without cost to themselves; Vanessa didn't know all the details, but thought a few of their own number had died, including an innocent child, whose mother had been locked in mourning for her son ever since. Vanessa felt sorry for her and for all the people who had been locked in that nightmare, and felt the guilty relief so common to survivors of disasters, that she'd managed to avoid it all. She'd been heading home from a party in the Village when she'd gotten that tingly feeling… and suddenly found herself booking it out of Manhattan, breaking all previous speed records for the little Festiva as she wove in and out of traffic while heading for the Brooklyn Bridge. The traffic had been relatively light at that time of night, but still heavy enough that the way she'd been driving went beyond crazy and right into suicidal, but she hadn't stopped for anything. She'd hardly noticed the shouting people and blaring horns, and hadn't given a damn about the sirens and lights flashing behind her, not when a voice inside her had been screaming hysterically GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT GET OUT!!!! And she'd made it across the bridge just before that seething curtain had slammed down, engulfing most of the cops following her…
In the pizzeria as she felt that beginning tingle again, Vanessa had almost bolted for the door without waiting for the screaming to start. But instead she'd kept her head down, tensing to spring up on the instant if she had to, and subtly checking for the Taser she kept clipped inside her left boot (delivery persons were supposed to be unarmed, but they also weren't supposed to get mugged and beaten up by folks after the money, or after her sweet young body, or sometimes just after free pizza) but otherwise keeping still. And after a second or two had realized that no internal voice was screaming for her to leave, but a little excited whisper was saying that she had to see this… So she had very discreetly watched as T.J. had popped a few quarters in Ye Toye Shoppe while glancing around, then had started working the claw. The machine gave the operator three chances to grab a stuffed toy, to prolong the agony of defeat. Vanessa had watched through her eyelashes as the retrieving arm jerked around for the first time, missing the gargoyle doll by an inch or so, went back up with the claw glaringly empty and dangled it mockingly over the drop box for a moment. The second time, the claws had managed to hook on the gargoyle's wing, but the doll slipped out of its grip before getting to the drop box. Then the claws had gone out a third time… and smoothly shot out and down, grabbed the doll with a sharp clank, picked it up and carried it over to the drop box. A few seconds later, the little girl had been cuddling a big purple gargoyle doll in her arms and grinning from ear to ear.
The other kids had then started pointing to other toys in the box, while looking up at T.J. expectantly. He'd sighed and muttered something she couldn't hear, glanced around once or twice, then started feeding in more quarters and working the controls. And again and again, he managed to snag the toys; never on the first try, and not always on the second try, but he eventually got a toy for every kid in the bunch in less than ten minutes.
By the time he'd gotten the little blonde-haired girl her cutesy stuffed lion cub, Vanessa had broken the tip of her art pencil and gotten a knot between her shoulderblades from forcing herself not to raise her head. But she'd kept still and kept her head down, not wanting to draw attention to herself or do anything to break the man's concentration, because she could hear her great-grandmother's voice in her head, that richly accented voice saying sternly that when a houngan or mambo communes with the loas, only a fool asks questions, and only a dead man interrupts. And whether this totally whitebread guy was a houngan or not, whatever juju he was working, she did not want to get in its way. Even if she was suddenly and wildly tempted to go up to him with a few quarters and ask him to get that cutesy little bunny rabbit in the corner for her; her kid sister Cathy would go totally gonzo for it…
She'd later discreetly asked the folks working the floor that night if they'd seen any of what she'd seen, but they'd been busy either totaling up bills, bussing tables or cleaning up after that one brat with another family who had thrown a tantrum, and flipped their pizza clean over and onto the floor. They'd vaguely noticed the people over by Ye Toye Shoppe, but had dismissed them as another bunch of poor suckers and not paid further attention. She'd kept her eyes open for the next few weeks, taking peeks inside the restaurant in between every delivery run to see if she could spot that group again, but they'd never come back while she was there.
After a couple of months, Vanessa had started wondering if she'd imagined the significance of the whole thing. After all, the guy hadn't gotten the claw to work for him every time, though that might have been deliberate fumbling to throw off the casual onlooker. And her "special feeling" wasn't exactly no Rolex watch; near as she could tell, it was unreliable as Hell. Yeah, it had probably saved her buns from roasting during Devil's Night, but before that it hadn't ever done her spit worth of good; it went off sometimes when she was looking at a totally ordinary housewife, but wouldn't even give a tingle when she was about to get neck-deep in trouble with muggers or psycho customers or that one would-be rapist last year. It might have been simply that this one guy had a lot of experience at Ye Toye Shoppe, enough to get what he wanted more often than the average joe; he might have even been in business to build them, for all she knew. Finally, she had decided to just file the whole thing under "New York Weirdness" and forget about it. And she had, until she'd met that same guy tonight.
Had he been doing anything "special" to her car? She hadn't gotten so much as a hint of juju from him tonight… But she'd gotten that weird feeling of things being hidden from her when she'd looked at his buddies. It would be nice if this "hidden eye" deal that Great-Grandmother Marcella had claimed she'd inherited worked even slightly more reliably than that fifty-year-old dishwasher back at her apartment, that kept flooding the place if she turned her back on it.
While sitting in her car and pondering, she became aware of the beat she was tapping out on the steering wheel with her fingers, and almost jerked her hand off when she realized what she was subconsciously doing. She glanced away, only to find herself looking at the gris-gris bag hanging from the rear-view mirror. Great-Grandmother Marcella's work…
Marcella Corbier hadn't just been the matriarch of the Corbier-Laveau-Green clan for at least half a century; she'd also been a self-proclaimed mambo, a Voodoo priestess. She'd been openly scornful of Vanessa's father, Isaac Green, for wanting to marry a white woman in 1971; not that that had stopped him from doing so, any more than Veronica Castleton's 'Southern High Society' parents publicly disowning their daughter had stopped her from marrying him. For ten years, Isaac and Veronica had stood alone but strong together against the world, eventually moving up to New York to follow the job market and begin raising their family. They'd still sent out birth notices for their first two children, James and Benjamin, to all the family on both sides, but had known better than to expect a response from either Isaac's grandparents (though his brothers, sister and father eventually became happy for them) or any members at all of Veronica's family. Then when Vanessa had been born… Isaac and Veronica had sent out the birth notices, and a week later received an envelope containing a handful of plane tickets and instructions to 'get their multicolored butts' down to the Corbier ancestral home in Louisiana as soon as possible. Marcella had a strong feeling about that girl-child…
A week later, they'd been in Baton Rouge and Marcella was looking deep into the eyes of her great-granddaughter, while the parents stood by (the father worried, the mother furious), and musing aloud that this one had a potential for power despite her mulatto blood. She'd leaned down to coo to the baby that she would teach her about her ancestors and the ways of the loa, and little Vanessa had reached up to her… and grabbed her nose, hard.
That had sort of set the tone for their dealings for the next eighteen years or so. Great-Grandmother Marcella had insisted on becoming a part of the Green family's life, flying up to New York to see them at least twice a year even if she hated airplanes with a passion. She came to treat all of Isaac and Veronica's children, including the later-born Cathy and Edward, as proper great-grandchildren, but reserved special treatment for Vanessa whether the child wanted it or not.
When Vanessa had been twelve years old, her daddy's company had opened a branch in Mississippi and he'd been sent down there to manage the business. That put the family much closer physically to the matriarch, and the visits had come at least once a month after that. (Great-Grandmother had been as pleased and proud as if she'd arranged the move herself, and for all anyone knew she might have; the Corbier family had money and political power to spare in Louisiana, and there was no telling how far the influence could reach.) Vanessa had never really decided whether she welcomed or dreaded those visits, because as fond as she was of her great-grandmother, who could do and had done just about anything she'd set her mind to in her ninety years of living, Marcella just had this crazy idea that Vanessa was supposed to be her spiritual heir, like a mambo in training or something. She always insisted on telling her tales of Papa Legba and Damballah Ouedo and Erzulie Ferougay and just a truckload of other gods and goddesses, the loa and mystere of the Voodoo religion. She explained to Vanessa how she was supposed to summon them to ask for help, what offerings pleased them best and what offended them, and a lot of other stuff… stuff that, quite honestly, mostly went in one ear and out the other after the first couple of years.
Sure, when Vanessa had been a kid she'd followed along as Marcella led her through the steps, half-hoping something would happen and a little scared that it really would, but she'd never heard voices or felt a loa mounting her or any of that stuff; the best she'd ever done was get that weird shivery feeling that started at her scalp and went straight down her spine, and not always even that. Marcella had growled at her that her disbelief and her white mother's Protestant blood were blocking her from reaching full potential, and appealed even louder for the loa to burn their way through to the physical realm and show their true power… Which they never did; not in front of Vanessa, anyway.
There were times when Vanessa had really, really wanted to throttle the stubborn old woman and scream at her, "We ain't in Haiti, and I ain't no mambo! And I'll believe in your loa on the same day one of them rides a unicorn down the street right in front of me, and asks me if I want a lift!" But she never had, of course. But still, once she'd reached legal age, she'd kissed her folks and left Louisiana behind, to return to New York and pursue an art career. Art school had done her good, refining her technique and bringing out all the promise her teachers back in high school had seen in her… but not quite good enough, or she wouldn't still have an apartment full of unsold art, a delivery job for The Pizzazoic Era and a limping-on-last-legs Ford Festiva… On the steering wheel of which she was again tapping out the drumming rhythm to summon Papa Legba, the opener of gates and always first to be summoned when communing with the loa. Vanessa jerked her hands away from the steering wheel again.
She finally asked herself the question she'd been trying to avoid for two years: What if maybe some of it was real after all? What if all of it was real, the loas and mysteres and the whole enchilada? She reached up and lightly touched the gris-gris, the little bag containing the charm Great-Grandmother Marcella had made for her just before she'd left for art school.
The last few years of her life, Marcella's majestically slow progression of aging had suddenly sped up fifty-fold; between 1996 and 1999, she'd gone from doing her own shopping and organizing fundraisers for her chosen charities to being fed with a spoon while wearing a bib, and talking to people who'd been dead for decades. But six months before she died, while Vanessa was packing her bags for art school, Marcella had summoned her again. "I know you, child, and I know that one way or another you will find your dreams, even as someday my dreams will find you," Marcella had croaked, with eyes nearly blind from glaucoma and a shaky but somehow still wicked grin. Then she'd reached beneath her pillow and pulled out the charm. "A little something to help you, and to remember me by… A very special gris-gris, the first of its kind, the first I made like this and the last I will make ever. Ah, the old ways they got to change sometimes, as the world changes, eh? But now that I am blind I see more than ever! Marcella, you put this in your car, that little Festiva you gave me a ride in before. You put this in your car, for it will be good for you in New York. I remember that city from when I visited, I remember! You put this in your car, child, for you will always need a good place to park it, and with this Papa Legba and Loco Attison will always show you to a spot! Hah, you doubt me, as you always do! Well, do it anyway, and when you see it you will remember me!"
Vanessa had rolled her eyes the moment she'd left the room, but she'd hung the charm bag from her rear view mirror before heading for New York. And now that she thought about it… She was one of the best delivery people for Pizzazoic, always getting the pizza to the door before the clock ran out, unlike some folks who were always bitching about how it was sometimes impossible to find a good parking spot in time…
"Great-Grandmother," Vanessa whispered, as she touched the bag. "The world keeps changing, growing larger… Stories coming to life. Gargoyles in the sky at night…. The demons of Devil's Night! And there's that story in the tabloids about a herd of unicorns sighted in the wilds upstate… And now… What's so special about this T.J. guy? And what am I supposed to do next?"
Was T.J. a wizard or houngan? Was everything that had happened lately a sign that she supposed to really start practicing voodoo, worshipping the loa and doing the mambo stuff? Building a shrine to Damballah and the other gods in the apartment, putting out offerings of food and wine and fine cigars? What was she going to do now?
After several long minutes of thought, she finally shrugged and put the Festiva in gear. When you came right down to it and got practical, the answer was obvious. She was going to go home, that's what she was going to do right now. And tomorrow she'd start working on a few rough sketches of poses for T.J., to give him some suggestions of what he might like for a portrait. And Monday she'd go to CarQuest and start buying spark plugs and the other thingies on the list she had in her pocket… because in two weeks, she was going to get her car fixed!
Ten days later, she was making deliveries again; Wednesdays were usually a pretty slow night, but this one had kept her hopping pretty much as soon as she'd showed up for work. And it seemed like every other trip she'd made, she'd had trouble on; one guy swearing up and down that he'd ordered something different, and wanting to blame her for the order being wrong even after she showed him the delivery slip. Another guy drunk off his ass and trying to score on her, like a few beers made him God's gift to women (Hah! God's curse on them, more likely). Another guy whose dog ran out the door as soon as he'd opened it, and damn near knocked her over as it bolted for freedom. And had she gotten a tip from any of them? Not only no, but Hell no!
She grumbled as she pulled up to the next and last address on this run, and double-checked the slip just to be sure. Yup, this was the address; the Aerie Building. And they'd ordered a dozen pizzas… This was going to be either a business meeting turned pizza party, which usually resulted in a decent tip, or a prank call, for which she wouldn't even get paid her delivery fee (if the pizzas weren't delivered, Pizzazoic didn't pay for her services, whether or not it was her fault). And the way her luck was running tonight, it'd probably be the latter… "C'mon, your luck's gotta change. Happy thoughts, girl, happy thoughts," she told herself determinedly as she shoved the door of the Festiva closed with one booted foot, while juggling the thermal packs containing a dozen pizza boxes in her arms, and trying to scrunch her forehead enough to keep that dorky dinosaur cap from blowing away again.
The doors of the Aerie Building were closed, with a little sign by the door stating their regular business hours, but Vanessa wasn't about to let that stop her, not in the mood she was in. She thumped and bumped against the door and hollered until the nighttime security guard came up to the door, scowling at her. "I got here a dozen pizzas to deliver!" she shouted at him through the thick glass. "You gonna let me in before they get cold, or what?!"
"The staff here has all gone home, Miss!" the guard shouted back at her. "You have the wrong address!"
"Not even, pal!" Vanessa precariously juggled the boxes around until she could get to the delivery slip in her pocket, and plastered it up against the glass for him to read. "This is the address I was given, so this is where these pizzas gonna be delivered!"
She noticed movement behind him, and tried to focus on it; elevator doors opening, and a pair of kids coming out and heading their way. She couldn't hear what they were saying through the glass, but the security guy heard them, and turned away to scowl at them as they ran towards the doors. Even closer to the doors the sound was still muffled, but she heard them say a few things to the guard, who said a few things back to them not nearly so nice but opened the door so she could come in.
Vanessa smiled wide at the kids as she came in through the door, figuring they belonged to the people who were working late and were runners sent to guide her up to the floor the pizza party was on, but went into her spiel just in case they had the money on them after all. She remembered how she'd been at that age, determined to do everything herself and prove to everybody that she was a big girl at all of six years old. "Greetings from the Pizzazoic Era, New York's favorite pizzeria!" as she smoothly brought one leg up like a crane to support the boxes, while she got out the delivery slip with her free hand. "I got here four large-sized Carnivorous Rex with extra cheese, three large Triceratoppings Deluxe, three large Raptor's Revenge and two large Vegosaurus. Total comes to $218.13 with tax; will that be cash or check?"
"Credit card?" the little girl said hopefully, holding up a Visa.
Vanessa closed her eyes for a moment and silently cursed; no, it definitely wasn't her best night yet. She reopened her eyes and forced that smile back onto her face, and accepted the credit card. "Issued to Elisa Maza."
"That's me!" the little girl piped up, her face and her entire body begging for the nice delivery lady to believe her.
"Uh-huh. And can I see some picture I.D.?"
The little girl sunk back, her body language now screaming guilt and defeat. "Busted," the little boy muttered. "Told you it wouldn't work."
Vanessa sighed loudly. "You kids' parents in the building?"
Twin sighs from the kids, as they admitted, "Our dad is."
"Well, I think we'd better all go see him," as she jerked her head towards the elevators.
They nodded dispiritedly and started to lead the way, but then the security guard stepped in front of them with the same sour face, like he'd been sucking on lemons since the day he dropped out of his momma. "I can't let you go up there without the proper vendor's clearance, and The Pizzazoic Era is not one of our authorized vendors!"
"Listen, mistah," Vanessa growled at him, figuring her tip was already screwed, "I am not leaving this building until I am paid for these pizzas! You got $218.13 on you, I'll be happy to drop them off right here, but if you don't, you by God better produce someone who does!"
Something about how truly pissed off she was getting must have gotten through her eyes and into his thick skull, because suddenly he backed off a couple steps and looked a little uncertain. Then he gave a really nasty smile, as he mockingly bowed and ushered her towards the elevators, saying, "Be my guest!" Now suddenly uncertain herself, Vanessa eyed him warily for a moment, but still headed for the elevator with the kids.
Carrying a dozen pizza boxes in thermal packs blocked a lot of her vision, so she didn't see which floor the little boy pushed the button for. But she wasn't really looking, anyway; instead, she was looking at the little girl, trying to figure out why she seemed familiar. Blonde hair, honey-beige skin… Then it hit Vanessa with a cold shock, like a slushball in July: this was the little girl from the pizzeria, the first time she'd seen T.J. Lawton! And now, as the little girl saw her staring and was looking nervously back at her, now she was getting that weird feeling of hiding something, the same one she'd gotten from those guys at the apartment! She almost blurted out one of Grandpa Peter's favorite phrases, when dealing with his mother-in-law: "Wha'de'fuck dis now, moe dat mambo shit?!"
The little girl sidled fearfully closer to the little boy, who was also looking at her uneasily. (Yep, he was from that night too, the one who'd gotten a Power Packer action figure from Ye Toye Shoppe.) Then they simultaneously looked at their watches, like they were running out of time or something. Then the little girl swallowed hard and spoke up again, saying, "Um, if we, um, if one of us stays with you, can the other one go get our dad?"
The little boy added, "Or maybe just, um, can we bring you the money?" When the girl muttered something in his ear, the boy hissed back something about "Alex's piggy bank." Already feeling like she'd fallen down a rabbit hole, Vanessa dazedly wondered what kind of kid was expected to have two-hundred twenty bucks in his piggy bank…
The elevator went ding, and the doors opened onto a long hallway. Instantly, the little boy took off like a shot, shouting over his shoulder for her to just stay there with Dee (the little girl, Vanessa assumed) and he'd be right back. Vanessa stepped outside the elevator doors before they closed, still holding the dozen pizzas in their boxes and thermal covers, and just stood there feeling stranger by the minute, staring at the girl while she tried to look everywhere else but back at the pizza lady. Then, after another minute or so, Vanessa began to hear something, the sounds of a ruckus… the ruckus came rapidly closer, the sounds resolving into a dog barking like mad, a little girl shrieking and laughing, and a deep, deep male voice growling playfully, "Going to get you! I'm going to get you! You'd better go faster, or I'm going to get you!"
Other than the guy's voice being way deeper than Isaac Green's, that sounded so much like when her daddy used to play "monster" for her and her little brother Edward that Vanessa couldn't help smiling widely in reminiscence. But now the little girl looked terrified; she started to bolt towards the ruckus, shouting, "No, Amber, don't! Stay—" But she was too late, as the other little girl rounded the corner.
Riding bareback on the biggest, ugliest muthafucka of a dog Vanessa had ever seen, with eyes that glowed white and jaws that could probably chew through a brick wall.
Sporting a pair of purple bat wings on her back, flapping excitedly as she hung onto the dog-thing.
And being chased by a big, big purple gargoyle, running on all fours.
The weird trio skidded to a halt right in front of her, their eyes all bugging out; then the dog-thing snarled as it shook the little bat-girl off and advanced stiff-legged on her, growling at the stranger in its territory. And the gargoyle got up off all fours and stood up—and up—looming over Vanessa as he swept the little bat-girl protectively behind him, and demanding with a growl, "Who are you and what are you doing here?"
The mind is a wonderful, mysterious thing, and there are aspects of human behavior that may never be fully understood. Looking back on it later, Vanessa thought it was as if her brain had just gone on autopilot for a few moments, but instead of the Fight or Flight reflex kicking in, it was the Pizza Lady reflex. She smiled widely as she said brightly, "Greetings from the Pizzazoic Era, New York's favorite Pizzeria!" Then she smoothly brought one leg up like a crane to support the boxes, while she got out the delivery slip with the hand she'd just freed. "I got here four large-sized Carnivorous Rex with extra cheese, three large Triceratoppings Deluxe, three large Raptor's Revenge and two large Vegosaurus. Total …comes to… $218.13 with tax," as the inherent absurdity of the situation began to creep in, but she determinedly kept up the spiel, figuring she had nothing to lose. She finished with a hard swallow, "Will that be cash or check?"
"Pizza!" the little bat-girl shouted excitedly, scampering out from behind the gargoyle and throwing her arms and wings out wide with delight.
The gargoyle—Goliath, the one she'd done a portrait of, Vanessa had realized halfway through her spiel—blinked at her, then said confusedly, "I was not aware we had ordered any pizza tonight."
"Um, Tom and I kind of ordered them for everybody," came timidly off to Vanessa's right. She glanced back at the little girl, and damn near dropped the boxes, because that wasn't no ordinary little girl anymore; now she was a gargoyle too, looking like she was some half-girl, half-leopard critter with a pair of bat-wings to boot. The leopard-girl gargoyle squirmed as she finished, "W-with Uncle Broadway gone to work early tonight and not having time to cook for us, we, well, we sort of wanted to surprise everybody…"
Fifteen minutes later, Vanessa was finally paid for the pizzas. First, Dee and Tom (who turned out to be a black-pantherish-looking gargoyle kid, only neither of the two kids were really gargoyles, or so Vanessa gathered from what she overheard) were chewed up one side and down the other by their father and Goliath together for trying to use their Aunt Elisa's credit card. Then, after establishing that nobody else in the castle had a checkbook or credit card, that their Aunt Elisa was on a stakeout and couldn't come home right away, that Xanatos family were all out of town as well but reachable by phone, and that they said it was okay this time… They opened Alex's piggy bank. Vanessa figured wryly that only Alexander Xanatos, seven-year-old heir to the Xanatos fortune, would be expected to have a couple hundred bucks lying loose in his piggy bank; shoot, his parents had probably had the bank special-made for their kid, since Vanessa had never before seen a ceramic piggy with bat wings attached.
"This is really embarrassing," a Sasquatch named Samson muttered as he helped a still-growling-softly Talon and Goliath count out the bills they'd just emptied out from the piggy bank.
"This is absolutely mortifying," Talon growled with his ears laid back. "Robbing a piggy bank to pay for pizzas…! If Dad and Mom hear about this, I'll never live it down. And if those kids ever pull anything like this again, I swear I'll hire them out for slave labor to pay for it."
Vanessa was fighting hard to conceal a wide grin as she watched them count out the money. She really felt a little sorry for Dee and Tom, who had been sent to their rooms without even a taste of the pizzas they'd ordered for everybody, and were going to be grounded for the next six weeks to boot. All the time this was taking should have been torquing her off almost as much as the other adults, since she was wasting prime delivery time and tips with every minute of delay, but she was more tickled than torqued. This was the absolutely most incredible delivery run she'd ever made for Pizzazoic, and that included the "National Frog Week" party she'd catered to at Columbia University's science labs last year.
They counted out the money twice, but still came to only $212.00; Alex had spent some of his allowance last week, on a kid-sized and motorized toy Ferrari from FAO Schwartz. "Can we… owe you the rest, and the tip?" Goliath asked, blushing a deep purple as he handed over the stack of bills.
"Don't worry about it; I'll cover it," Vanessa said with a wide grin. "Just consider it part of the thanks everyone owes you guys, for all the good you do in reducing the criminal element." When Talon protested that it wasn't right for her to end up losing money over them, she said brightly, as though it had occurred to her just then instead of over ten minutes ago, "We could maybe work out a deal in trade, if you like! I'm an artist, and I'm always looking for interesting subjects to paint…"
Goliath frowned while Talon set his ears back, but suddenly Samson blurted out, "You're her! The one Broadway told me about, the pizza lady who did a portrait of Goliath!"
Vanessa stared at him, puzzled. "How'd you hear about that one? I haven't even put it on display in the Saturday Market yet."
Samson suddenly hemmed and hawed and found the floor terribly interesting, while Goliath started to answer and then found the ceiling just as fascinating, but after a few moments Vanessa put two and two together. "The way the kids were disguised… You can all do that, can't you? So you can go incognito when you want to mingle with folks on the street. And some of you were with that guy T.J. Lawton when he was setting up in his new digs…"
"Magical disguises, from devices created by a sorceress in our clan," Goliath admitted. "And yes, Mr. Lawton is a friend of ours." He cleared his throat, now looking both curious and a little embarrassed. "Broadway seemed most impressed with your talent…"
Vanessa grinned wide, knowing the clan leader was curious to see the portrait she'd done of him. "Give me a few minutes to get back to my car, and I'll show you my portfolio!"
When Vanessa finally ended her shift that night and went home to her apartment in the Village, her roommate Carrie looked at her curiously and said, "You're more chipper than usual after doing 'Dinosaur Duty'. Hot tips tonight?"
"Nope; made only about a buck-fifty, all in all," Vanessa said cheerfully as she took the dinosaur hat off and tossed it across the room.
"That's all?! Then why are you so happy? What, did you get laid?"
Vanessa grinned as she headed straight for her easel, flipping open her sketch book to the preliminary sketches she'd done while at the castle. "Better than that, honeychile; I got a commission!"
Author's note: details of the Voodoo religion were gleaned from "Tell My Horse: Voodoo and Life in Haiti and Jamaica," by Zora Neale Hurston, and any errors in this story that might be found by the more intimately acquainted reader are mine, not Ms. Hurston's. No offense is intended to those who practice and believe in its tenets.