Sprinting through the deserted streets of either a large town or small city somewhere in England, Faith cast an anxious look towards the east. It was still pitch-black there, but the Slayer knew that any minute now, the first faint light of dawn coming from that direction would signal that the night was finally over. This would make her prey even more desperate, not that Richard Eddington somewhere a few hundred feet ahead and out of sight had been particularly calm at any time during the last couple of hours while that panicked vampire had been chased by the brunette woman.

Skidding to a stop next to some sort of delivery truck parked on the residential street, Faith tensely checked out the vicinity, looking and listening around herself with all her superhuman senses. The only sounds at all that seemed significant were faint footsteps coming from a side street beyond, accompanied by even fainter clinking and rattling noises. Not wanting to alarm her demonic prey, Faith glided forward to the street corner and then she peered around the edge of the brick wall of a house there.

The Slayer saw at once that the guy walking there away from her along the sidewalk wasn't Eddington. She'd seen that fleeing vampire's back often enough tonight to recognize this anywhere, and the stranger was slimmer than that burly monster. Plus, the human going about his business, for whatever reason at the crack of dawn, was carrying something in either hand-

At that exact second, Eddington burst out from the side passage between two houses where he'd been lurking, darting towards the meal on legs that had just gone by. Faith also blurred into motion, running forward while pulling out a stake from her jacket, yet also feeling absolute despair flood her mind. Even at her fastest Slayer speed, she couldn't possibly get there in time before that innocent guy got killed or taken hostage-

Coming to a dead stop on the sidewalk, Faith gaped in total shock at what she'd just seen.

Seemingly unaware of the fanged creature coming up behind himself, the guy walking away had then inexplicably tossed high up into the air what he'd been carrying in his left hand. As it reached its apex, the full milk bottle floating there seemed to have its white liquid actually glowing through the sides of this glass container. This would naturally attract anyone's eye, including Eddington himself, as the vampire paused to gawk at what his prey had just done. That didn't last long, not when the human next whirled around, and fiercely thrust with his left hand towards the chest of the demon standing in front of what had just turned out to be anything but a potential victim.

Faith didn't see what exactly happened then, as Eddington's broad back hid this, but the results were extremely familiar to the Slayer, as the vampire then puffed into ashes. This left the human standing there with his left arm kept held vertically straight ahead, flattened palm down, and still gripping his wire crate filled with other milk bottles at his right side in that other hand. An instant later, the milkman's left hand turned over to allow his tossed-up distraction to unerringly land back into his palm, with the softest possible slapping sound being made by this by the contact of glass against flesh.

As she disbelievingly watched the milkman's fingers curl around the milk bottle, Faith also saw the cigarette in the guy's mouth flare brightly as a breath was drawn in. The glow from this revealed a mature man's stern face, with tight cheekbones over a lean countenance having no scrap of excess flesh. This man's black hair was also severely cut short into a sleek coiffure over two deeply-set grim eyes which now shifted as if being a pair of gun muzzles that were tracking…

Her.

Faith stared back in utter shock. She was at least a hundred feet away, standing stock-still in the blackness of the night-time shadow cast by one of the houses in the side street, but it was absolutely clear that the guy over there not only knew of her presence, he was looking right at her. Yet, for all that, her Slaydar was insisting her observer was completely and totally human.


A couple of minutes later and a dozen blocks away after making a hasty retreat, Faith collapsed onto one of the metal benches in the small park she'd just found, and the Slayer then immediately pulled her cell phone out of her pants pocket. Glancing once more towards the east, Faith noted the first gray signs of dawn there, but by most people's reckoning, the time was still oh-dark-thirty, which meant she could escape having to actually talk to the geek.

About several years earlier, a very glum Rupert Giles had been trying to think of where to safely place Andrew Wells in that young man's continued employment with the New Council. While there had been enough blame for everyone back then, that specific Sunnydale native's high-handed involvement with Angel and Spike's visit to Rome and then the retrieval of Dana the insane Slayer had, at the very least, contributed to the breakdown of communications between the Fang Gang and the New Council which had resulted in the Los Angeles disaster with Wolfram and Hart plus the Black Thorn's destruction, and the disappearances or deaths of two souled vampires and their compatriots.

It'd all wound up with Giles having what he'd considered at the time a satisfactory inspiration, in sending Andrew out to search for the copies of the former Council's secret records. Even though everything had been thought to have been destroyed during the bombing of the organization's London headquarters by the First Evil's minions, there'd always been rumors years - even decades - before among the lower-ranking Watchers that for security reasons, back-up duplicates of their files and knowledge were hidden away somewhere. Giles himself had frankly doubted this, knowing from actual experience just how paranoid the old Council had been about their records and their unwillingness to allow any chance of others learning that group's secrets.

However, it was the perfect excuse to get Andrew Wells out of the Scottish castle that was the New Council's present center of operations, sending him far, far from where any Watcher, Slayer, and support staff would have to ever again listen to that young man discourse at great length about such puerile popular entertainment as George Lucas' entire ouevre. Knowing there was the possible chance of actual murder due to this in the near future, Giles had immediately called Andrew into his office, quite willing to make it a definite order if that idio- Ahem. Obsessed boy was reluctant in accepting his latest mission.

Worrisomely enough, Andrew had been enthusiastic about it all. There had been an excessive amount of babble, likening the assignment to a combination of a quest and a treasure hunt, and even including the incomprehensible words "A real Dan Brown story!" Deciding for the sake of his own sanity not to pursue this further, Giles had shooed Andrew out of his office, arranged a fairly reasonable expense account for the younger man, and the head of the New Council thankfully enjoyed the ensuing peace and quiet around the castle for the next several months.

Until at the end of that time, a phone call had been taken by Giles, with this astonished Englishman being informed of the sole outcome that had never even been considered likely, all by Andrew Wells triumphantly declaring that he'd found the old Council's cache of records hidden away inside a disused tin mine at a remote location in Cornwall. A dazed Giles had then endured a prolonged saga by that bloody wanker of just how he'd managed to do this, with the former California high-school librarian realizing among the verbiage that it basically came down to Andrew annoying so much the people he'd interviewed that they'd basically told him whatever he wanted to know just to make him go away.

It ended with a resigned Giles bestowing upon a proud Andrew the grandiose title of "Master of the Archives" and setting up living quarters for that young man at the now-guarded mine. There, Andrew cheerfully spent the next several years putting everything on-line in the New Council's computers (Willow had made sure during all this that there wasn't any repetition of the Moloch incident), referencing and cross-filing several thousand years of Slayer history, and having the time of his life reading through the chronicles of these superhuman young girls. As for the others of this demon-fighting organization, they were more than happy to have Andrew several hundred miles away from the Scottish castle, where the only people in regular contact with him were those of the research and information staff set up to disburse around the clock any knowledge sought by the Watchers and Slayers in the course of their work protecting the world.


Which only meant to Faith on her park bench that she was able to avoid speaking to somebody who truly set her teeth on edge. The Slayer tapped the proper button on her cellphone and waited to be answered. Faith soon heard from her phone, "New Council Records. Please scream if you need help at once."

Grinning at the familiar voice she'd just heard, Faith chuckled to Michael Bridgewell, someone she'd met before both by phone and in person and liked a lot, if only because of that castle staff guy's just-demonstrated sardonic sense of humor that also helped him put up with Andrew Wells. "Hey, Mike, what's shakin'?"

A pleased voice answered, "Hello, Faith. I'm fine, thank you. Heard you were going after what's-his-name, Eddington. How'd that turn out?"

"The bastard's blowin' in the wind, like a proper vamp should."

"Good," decisively said Michael, who'd been permanently seconded to support operations after his Watcher career had ended a year ago due to crippling injuries from one of those blood-drinking monsters during a raid on a vampire nest.

"Yeah, well," Faith confessed in a puzzled voice, "It wasn't me who got him. Somethin' weird went on a few minutes ago, and I can't make hide nor hair outta it. Best guess, which is why I called you to find out - is there a Hunter workin' here?"

The Slayer could feel Michael's eyebrows going up far away at the Scottish castle. Hunters were the term given by the New Council regarding those other people who knew about the things that existed in the dark, and for their own reasons went after them. The relations between these demon hunters and the New Council varied widely, depending on exactly how that organization approved of their competitors' behavior while doing this. It ranged from active cooperation and assistance for those who confined themselves to destroying only malevolent fiends while being careful to limit any possible collateral damage to humans and other peaceful demons, to actual hostility towards those Hunters whose motto could best be defined as "Kill 'em all and let Satan sort 'em out."

Faith now heard the tapping of computer keys as Michael got ready to look up what the Slayer wanted to know. Next came from her phone, "All right, the first thing I need, where exactly are you?"

Looking around the park, a baffled Faith shrugged, "Beats me. Can't see no street signs, and I'm not even sure which place I'm in. Hadda concentrate on breathin' down the vamp's neck insteada payin' attention to the scenery."

Michael patiently suggested, "So, push the GPS button on your phone. That'll give me your location, and we'll see if there's anything in the files about a Hunter in the area."

"Gotcha, Mike." Faith did what she'd been told, only to hear a few seconds later in her ear an astonished grunt from who she'd been talking to. As the silence lengthened, Faith eventually demanded, "Whassup?"

"This is rather strange, Faith." At the castle, Michael regarded with perplexity his computer screen. Continuing in his matching mystified tone, the man explained, "Right now, the only thing I'm seeing on my computer is a red-flag notice, from the old Council."

"What the hell's that?" Faith asked, now at a complete loss.

At the other end of the phone, Michael leaned back in his chair and rubbed at his scarred face, to then reply, "When the records that Mr. Wells found got transferred to our computers, it was all done automatically. Nobody had the time then - or even later - to physically go through them all and delete the mystical spells, charms, and enchantments on the sensitive or confidential documents, apart from anything that could actually threaten people, like Ms. Rosenberg did. Which in turn meant that the security protections on the real, top-secret stuff still shows up as a preventive warning whenever anyone tries to look at them. And before you ask, I have no idea why your location should be classified as being restricted to the upper levels of the previous Watchers' Council."

In the park, Faith shook her head in pure bewilderment, to then say, "Can't you get me the info anyway, Mike?"

"I just don't have the authority or the passwords, Faith. It needs someone on the board of the New Council, from Director Giles or the next level downwards, to be able to unlock this."

"Well, damn, dude," happily declared the brunette Slayer, as she then realized something. "I'm on the board, even though I never show up there. Can't stand bein' in meetin's all day. Much rather be out in the field, like now. Okay then, turn your phone by the screen, and hold it there. You ready to do that?"

A startled Michael answered, "Er, yes. Wait a moment."

Once she was sure that things were properly set up at the castle, Faith confidently recited into her phone, "Faith Lehane, Alpha-Niner-Delta-" It was at that point when the Slayer felt a cold tingle in the middle of her forehead, the indication that Willow's authorization spell was working. She tolerantly bore this for the next few seconds as she continued to speak, "-Three-Epsilon. Five by five."

At the castle, Michael watched in fascination as his computer screen shimmered, and then the former red-flag message disappeared, with his screen becoming filled with writing. Leaning forward to study this, the Englishman soon got so lost in his preoccupation about what he was reading that only a shrill whistle from his phone finally diverted his attention back to an impatient Faith, who crankily asked, "What the hell's takin' so damn long?"

"Um, sorry, Faith," apologetically said Michael. "It's just that- Well, you were right. There's not only a Hunter there, but incredible as it might seem, he also got the old Council to totally back off from his territory. There's the strongest message possible given in the file that no Watchers or Slayers are ever to go to where you are now."

"Holy crap!" exclaimed Faith. She went on in her disbelieving tone, "You're tellin' me that dude I saw tonight takin' out a vamp without breakin' a sweat faced down Travers and his asshole buddies and made 'em like it?"

There was absolute silence from Faith's phone, until in a very awed voice, Michael then asked, "Was this person a milkman?"

"Yeah! Weird, huh? You know, I gotta say, if he's still goin' strong after the First wiped out those shitheads who treated alla their Slayers like Kleenex, he musta been one mean dude even back then with Travers-"

Interrupting Faith, Michael said in a perfect deadpan, "The first mention of Louie Lay in the records of the Watchers' Council is dated 1826. And he was a milkman then, too, except he used a horse and a wagon."

Back in the castle, the Englishman there smirked towards the computer monitor at the ensuing silence coming from his phone. Finally, a woman's resigned voice spoke, "Okay, just give me the whole story."

Michael allowed himself a chuckle, only to then regretfully inform his listener, "Unfortunately, there isn't all that much more, Faith. After their first encounter with him sometime in the mid-nineteenth century which reads between the lines that something very embarrassing happened then, that was as far back as the Council could trace him. However, he's remained a milkman every time they cautiously rechecked, which was every twenty to thirty years, while also bearing the same name and appearance. How and why this is possible, including the point that nobody else remembers him remaining physically unchanged, has stayed totally unknown. The whole file is filled with numerous conjectures about this: someone blessed or cursed by a god, being a wizard, demon, a combination thereof, but again, no one knows."

"What about the Hunter stuff?" Faith managed to ask.

"Oddly enough, you're the only one who's ever witnessed this at first hand. But no vampire or hostile demon has ever come out of his territory, and any one of these that goes in there never appears again or is even rumored to have survived very long."

"Huh," a thoughtful Slayer responded to that. Faith then tried, "Is there anythin' else about this Louie guy?"

Tapping away at his computer, Michael absently replied, "One more thing. Over the years, that person has always had several young boys helping out on his milk route. They also don't seem to have ever noticed anything odd about their employer, but in the main, these apprentices had gone on to very successful lives and careers, many times much further up in society. In one particular case, this lad became a Watcher."

Faith burst out with, "You gotta be kiddin'! What happened then?"

"As you might expect, the Council at the time then asked a great many questions, but to no avail. Paul Higby, which was this man's name, was totally unable to remember anything different about Louie Lay, and when the former employee went back to his hometown to confront that person, he returned to the Council and firmly refused to discuss whatever had happened. There's nothing else in the Lay file concerning this, but in the Watchers' historical records, Mr. Higby kept his Slayer alive a record four years, with her being one of the few after fighting so long to never undergo the Cruciamentum. They died at each others' sides defeating a potential apocalypse."

"Good for her, and him, too," huskily whispered Faith.

There was a moment of shared silence between the pair on the phone, united in their respect for their predecessors. Eventually clearing his throat, Michael said, "Well, Faith, if there's nothing further, it might be a good idea to depart from that place. There's no telling what Mr. Lay, if in fact that is his real name, might do if he becomes aware of your continued presence in what he's evidently claimed as his territory."

Mentally chewing that over, Faith at last gave a resigned shrug. "Guess so. Still, you can bet that Giles is gonna want to know about this. Might as well as drop in at the castle tomorrow or after, spread the word."

At his work cubicle, Michael nodded at that. "Quite right. I'll have my report done about this, including anything else that I find. You can pass it along to Director Giles."

"Gotcha, Mike. See you soon."

"Goodbye, Faith."

After those farewells, the Slayer absently turned off her phone and she returned this to her pants pocket. Staring straight ahead, Faith spent the next minute or so thinking over all that she'd just learned. This woman's contemplation lasted right up to the point when an exceedingly irascible voice coming from directly behind herself grumbled, "Yer finished gassing about me?"

Faith landed a good couple of yards away from the park bench that she'd just levitated from, twisting around in mid-air during her panicked leap to land on her feet. Now tensely holding a weapon in either hand that she'd snatched from under her jacket, the shocked Slayer gaped at a milkman who'd actually managed to sneak up on someone with heightened senses.

Standing there with a very bland look upon his face, the being that had existed as Louie Lay for nearly two centuries now performed a slow twirl once with the lit cigarette still between his thin lips. For some reason, Faith instantly became positive that guy over there had just showed the only sign of amusement that he rarely allowed himself. That also had the effect of arousing the Boston-born Slayer's quick temper, causing her to growl back at who'd just caught Faith completely unawares, "Maybe, maybe not. You up to answering a few questions about who or what the hell you are?"

A calm Louie eyed the irate woman before him, to then indifferently answer, "Nope." Turning away while carrying his milk carton in his right hand, the milkman paused at hearing a suddenly snarled statement.

"Well, then why don't you pass on how you got the Council off your back? Woulda been interested as hell in that little trick myself a few years ago!"

Returning to face his furious questioner, Louie thoughtfully reassessed this woman, before inquiring past his cigarette, "Yer bin in trouble with them before?"

"They fucked me over good a few months after I was Called!" snapped Faith, sudden tears appearing at the corners of her eyes at memories that were still painful after so long. Nevertheless, she carried on, "My Watcher was murdered and I didn't get any goddamn support from any of those British bastards after that! Took off across the whole U.S., wound up in a crappy motel at a little place called Sunnydale, and then things really went to hell in a handbasket! Took me years to deal with it, both what was my fault and what wasn't- Why the fuck am I telling you this? Go back to delivering your damn cow juice!" Right after that rant, Faith started to stomp off, until she froze in her tracks at hearing an unemotional voice speaking in a monotone.

"Had a customer once, a long time back." After spitting his cigarette stub onto the ground, Louie stood there totally frozen, without a single clink from the bottles in his milk carton, but the skin over his cheekbones had tightened even further and turned shiny while he stared at the startled woman listening to him. "Timid feller, wouldn't say boo to a goose. But he was interested in stars, had one of them telescopes and liked to get up real early to look at the skies, before electricity or even gaslight in most places. He'd say hello to me on my route, tell me things about stars and planets and moons and suchlike. Well, one night, found him getting turned by a vampire. Killed it, decided not to do that with him. Got him through it, though he didn't change all that much, never could bring himself to hurt anyone. Delivered him his pig and beef blood regularly, and he went back to looking at the stars. Up to when one of your kind blew into here without a single by-your-leave, and staked him on the spot. I'm the only one who remembers his name."

Faith managed to meet Louie's icy gaze for several moments after his remarks, before she muttered, "Sorry."

"Yeah, so was they, those snobby Council blokes in London after I went there. Only time ever I left my route then, which made me really play merry-hell when I said my piece to them all. Think they learned summat from that, they never bothered me again. Until now," meaningfully finished Louie.

"I didn't know anything about you!" protested Faith, getting annoyed again after feeling a little ashamed after what she'd just heard. She glowered at the unimpressed whatever-that-was in his blue knitted sweater with white reindeer, her temper once more stirring at actually being slighted. The Slayer tried to put aside this to instead diplomatically explain, "A few years back, the old Council got blown up by some Big Bad, and it ended with us building a new organization. Uh, there's hundreds of Slayers like me around the world now, and we're still dealing with that. Things like, um, you had a tendency to slip through the cracks without us noticing, and if we wasn't bitten on the ass by that, it could have kept going on like, basically forever."

"Wouldn't have minded that at all," sourly commented Louie. He sent his own glower back towards the young lady there, before adding in a more doleful tone, "More Slayers? Do I have to run 'em off every time they show up?"

Faith actually had to sigh at hearing that. Putting away her weapons back into her jacket, the woman scratched her chin, until she suggested, "Listen, I have to tell Giles - he's the new boss of the Slayers - all about this, but I can also pass on that you don't wanna be bothered. He might buy that, considering we have a shitload of other work, enough to keep us busy. We stay outta here, and as long as you keep doin' what you do, not lettin' any monsters mess around here, I think that'll be fine. Deal?"

Louie Lay seemed to draw himself up in his mild affront, while he snorted, "Never had any trouble taking care of my own manor." Relaxing a little after delivering that boast, the milkman slowly nodded, "Fine, then. There's one condition, though. You have to come back here, after settling things with your squire, to tell me that all the details are taken care of. You, nobody else. That'll be our agreement, aye?"

"Okay, mister, you're on," said a very relieved Faith, who then blinked at seeing the considering glance now being given to her by Louie.

Right after that, as if he'd just made a decision, this man strode towards the back of the park bench where Faith had been seated just minutes ago, all while reaching down with his left hand towards his milk carton in his other hand. Pulling free a full bottle from this carry box, Louie then reached over the backrest of the bench, to then gently place the glass container atop the seat. Pausing to give a bemused Faith an actual quirk of his lips, the eternal milkman informed the Slayer, "Yer looking a bit peaked. Try summat that'll settle yer stomach."

Faith stared at the milk bottle placidly resting on the park bench, before her gaze snapped up to look right at where Louie…wasn't. Her mouth falling open, the Slayer wildly twisted her head back and forth, only to see nobody but herself in the entire park which was easily discernable in the early morning light. After several more moments of futiley trying to find a vanished milkman, Faith let out an exasperated growl, to then study once more the milk bottle presumably waiting for her to pick it up, its sides beginning to glisten with condensation.

Giving a baffled shrug of her shoulders, Faith stepped forward, until she stopped in front of the park bench and reached down to pick up the bottle. Bringing the glass container nearer to her face for a few moments' wary examination, the Slayer finally said, "Oh, the hell with it. He coulda done somethin' nasty to me already if he wanted to do that, anyways." A quick twist of her fingers stripped off the paper cap from the mouth of the bottle, and after giving a cautious sniff that only brought to her nose the sweet smell of just-delivered milk, Faith drained the whole bottle in one gulp.

"Aahhhh!" sighed the woman, enjoying the cool taste and delicious sensations of what was now comfortably in her stomach, smacking her lips and feeling that the world was indeed a good place. As Faith beamed around at the deserted park, the Slayer was totally unaware that she now had on her face the largest milk mustache in the entire universe.


Author's Note: The title of this story comes from the song given below:

Milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Can't use that jive on my milk diet
So milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Been jumpin' on the swing shift, all night
Turnin' out my quota all right
Now I'm beat right down to the sod
Gotta catch myself some righteous nod

Milkman stop that grade A riot
Cut out if you can't lullaby it
Oh, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Been knocking out a fast tank, all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks

So milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Now noise of the riveter rocks, don't mind it
'Cause the man with the whiskers has a lot behind it
But I can't keep punchin' with the victory crew
When you're making me punchy with that bottled moo

I wanna give my all if I'm gonna give it
But I gotta get my shuteye if I'm gonna rivet
So bail out, bud, with that milk barrage
Cause it's unpatriotic, it's sabotage

Been knocking out a fast tank, all day
Working on a bomber okay
Boy, you blast my wig with those clinks
And I got to catch my forty winks

So milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Oooh, milkman, keep those bottles quiet
Oooh, milkman, keep those bottles quiet

Quiet!

MILKMAN, KEEP THOSE BOTTLES QUIET
From the film "Broadway Rhythm" (1944)
(Don Raye / Gene De Paul)

From Wikipedia:

"Edmund Wallace Hildick (1925–2001) was a prolific children's book author, who wrote under the name E. W. Hildick. He wrote, amongst others, the Ghost Squad, Jim Starling, Birdy Jones, Jack McGurk and Lemon Kelly series.

Background

He was born in Bradford, England in 1925. After two years service in the RAF he became a secondary school teacher, then a writer, before moving to the United States to become editor of a literary magazine. He was one of the very few British juvenile authors of his generation to achieve success in America.

He started writing while he was a teacher in a Secondary Modern school at Dewsbury in the West Riding of Yorkshire in England, his intended audience being "tough, modern kids similar to the ones I teach". He died in London, England."

Further Author Note: The above Wiki entry doesn't mention the quartet of novels for young people that this author wrote about Louie Lay from 1968 to 1979: Louie's Lot, Louie's SOS, Louie's Snowstorm, and Louie's Ransom. In all four books, Hildick presents a very fascinating protagonist: somebody who gets on with their daily job without any fuss or bother, yet is clearly an expert at it in serving his customers while also being fiercely proud of his occupation. Though, anybody who actually told Louie this would be given a serious fisheye, while a moment later, this milkman would merely say in a no-nonsense tone, "Yer, what about it, then?"

I couldn't resist crossing over a Buffyverse Louie with Faith, which resulted in this tale. The following link below shows the cover art for that book, with a great picture of Louie Lay in the identical mood he showed during this story after telling Faith about his customer.

/works/OL2642289W/Louie's_ransom