CHAPTER SIX

The Sloane estate, shortly after the end of the last chapter…

The man known as Number One takes aim on Dylan Hunter, ready to kill without mercy. Suddenly from the service road comes the loud blast of the horn on Jane's van. It is only a momentary distraction, but it is enough for Dylan to duck as the bullet is fired. Number One curses as he realizes his shot has missed. Now where…? In the next instant Dylan seems to pop up from nowhere and successfully kicks the gun out of his enemy's hand. The two men square off to fight hand to hand.

Dylan assesses his foe, a very large, strong man with training in the martial arts. Dylan also notes the contrast between the panic of the resentment demon within and the courage of the man. This will not be an easy fight as the demon adds strength to an opponent who is already very strong. Blows are exchanged, blocks are made and both men endure damage but the trend of the fight is clearly going to Dylan. Wincing from a couple of harsh hits, Dylan knows that one or two more strikes against his enemy will put the big man down. Before he can move, a bullet strikes a tree nearby, missing Dylan's head by an inch. He has no choice but to flatten to the ground, cursing his carelessness in having forgotten the Sloane kid.

Algernon Sloane continues to spray bullets in Dylan's general direction – his panicked shooting not really coming close to his intended target. As for Number One, his demon master has had enough and he runs away as fast as he can. Dylan gets a glimpse of the large man exiting through the rear gate of the estate and feels frustrated that he can do nothing to stop his foe. Dylan knows he must wait a few more seconds because at the rate Algernon is firing, he will be out of bullets soon. Moments later Algernon stops as he has to reload. Dylan rushes up, pulls the gun he captured earlier, and trains the weapon on the teenager…

"Hold it kid, it's over. Don't make me shoot you."

There is a limit to how much danger even a dedicated cultist is willing to take. Algernon raises his hands in surrender. Dylan waves him over to the unconscious body of the other cultist that he managed to knock out.

"You get to carry your friend. Head for the gate."

Algernon, strong for his age, picks up the stunned Tavis MacDonald and easily carries him. "He's not a friend. I know his name, but to me he is Number Eleven. Just another member of this obviously failed council. And to think, I respected and even feared a man who would run away when his comrades were in the middle of a fight. Number One is just a coward."

Dylan smiles. "He has…internal issues."

They reach the gate and Dylan is relieved to see Jane Lane is waiting for them, unharmed.

"The big guy ran right by me. He got into a car further down the road and sped off like a bat out of hell."

"An appropriate analogy. I'm glad to see you are okay, Jane. Thanks for blowing that horn at the right moment. You saved my life."

"Glad to help. What are we going to do with these two?"

"We need a place where we can leave them tied up until Homeland Security can take them in. I have the number of a high ranking official, and I'll use this guy's cell phone to text the 'Come and get me' message."

"I know the perfect spot at Lawndale High where they can be locked away and where no one else will accidentily stumble upon them."

"There's such a place at a high school?"

"Oh yeah, trust me, I know the school like the back of my hand."

X X X X X

At that moment, Joan Girardi is running as fast as she can across the campus of Arcadia High, glad that she knows the school like the back of her hand. Even as she runs, Joan is on her cell phone…

A few blocks away, Sgt. Major Blane along with Sgt. Mack Gerhardt (Dirt Diver) are travelling toward Arcadia High. He has just received a message from the men guarding Joan that she is on the run and they are following. Blane's satellite phone rings and he sighs. How does he know who this will be...

"Miss Girardi?"

With gasping breaths Joan says, "Hey Snake Doctor, I got a problem. I need your guys to back off and wait for my signal."

"If you are in danger…"

"I am, big time, and if we are going to avoid a bloodbath, I need you to trust me and do what I say."

"Miss Girardi, my job is to guard your safety…wait, I'm getting another message from my men." (A brief pause.) "They report two armed men are chasing you!"

"I know, and there are a lot more coming. Have your guys take cover so they are not spotted. I'm headed for the athletic field and I'll let you know when I'm ready for you guys to move in."

"There is no way I'm letting you take this risk on your own."

"Really? How do you like the sound of 'Corporal Snake Doctor'?"

Blane hesitates. He doubts Joan can arrange that drastic of an effect on his career, but he does know she has a high security clearance and the ear of Issac B. Dunn from Homeland Security. Such a man could easily get him kicked out of special forces and transferred to say... a desk job in Alaska.

From the back of the van Hobart Smith adds his two cents. "You should listen to her. Joan has the ability to turn around even the most desperate situations. In one night she went from being my prisoner to wiping out half of my organization."

"Alright Joan, but try not to get yourself killed. That wouldn't be good for my career either. Keep on the line." (Into the radio…) "Cool Breeze, Hammer Head, back off and take cover. Wait for my signal."

Sergeants Brown and Williams hear the message and reluctantly obey. They take cover in some bushes at the edge of the athletic field and moments later two armed men run by their position in hot pursuit of the young woman they are suppose to be guarding. It takes all of their discipline not to disobey and help Joan.

Meanwhile, Joan has reached the far end of the field where a tunnel leads down to the underground locker rooms beneath the stands. With concrete walls on both sides and overhead, with a ramp leading down, Joan seems to have trapped herself. Removing a set of lockpicks from her bag, Joan tackles the first barrier, a tall metal gate. As she works the lock, Joan can't help but remember that it was here she and Judith once saw Lars Closterman kissing the school's drug supplier, Teddy Marks. The gate swings open and Joan closes it most of the way, blocking it with the stun gun she has been carrying all day. With the electrodes touching the gate, Joan switches on the gun. 'A shock for anyone who touches this.'

As Joan runs down the ramp, Sgt. Brown reports to Snake Doctor, "Cars are arriving and more armed men are exiting and joining the chase. The Girardi girl is trapped in the tunnel leading down to the lockers. Can we assist?"

"Negative. We are one minute away. Wait for us…"

Joan has reached the end of the tunnel where two steel doors block her path. Joan again begins working on a lock. She does her best to concentrate, but Joan knows she is timing this very close. If she doesn't succeed in the semi-darkness of this tunnel, then she is trapped and will die. Joan hears a man's scream, and realizes the first of her pursuers has touched the gate at the front of the ramp. The lock clicks and Joan swings open the door. She can't resist looking back and sees one man down, twitching from his electrical shock, but the gate is open and the second man is aiming a gun at her. Joan ducks as a bullet goes by, missing her slightly. Crap, that was close! Joan enters the locker room area, slamming and locking the steel door behind her.

Breathing hard, Joan mentally gives thanks that Judith once pursuaded her to sneak down here to get a glimpse of the football team as they were taking their showers. Joan hears a loud group of men arriving. Soon they are pounding on the door, trying to get in. She hears a shot ping off the steel door followed by the groan of someone being wounded by the ricochet.

"Stop shooting, you fool before you kill us all. Number Five, watch this door in case she comes out this way. The rest of us will circle around to the street level entrance to this area."

Satisfied all of her pursuers are now in the tunnel, Joan calls out on her cell phone, "Now, Snake Doctor."

Joan distantly hears a voice shouting, "Federal officers, throw down your weapons!"

Out on the athletic field, the four army sergeants have the ten cultists pinned in a trap they cannot escape. They can only go through the narrow gate one at a time, and every time they try, bullets from silenced pistols force the enemy back into their hole (the first man out was wounded in the shoulder). Sgt. Major Blane works his way around to the stands above the tunnel entrance and calls down to the trapped cultists…

"Give up or I start lobbing grenades into that tunnel!"

There is a brief period of mumbling between the trapped men before they begin coming out, hands held high in surrender…

X X X X X

9:00 p.m./Girardi campaign headquarters.

A crowd of supporters mingle about, waiting for the next news update. Dylan Hunter enters, searches the crowd and quickly locates Joan. Through the crowd they rush toward each other and eagerly join in a long, long kiss…

"Oh God, I'm so glad to see you safe." Joan cries, tears in her eyes.

"Me? You were the one who was in real danger. Your text said you caught the other ten cultists?"

"Well, it was actually the soldiers from The Unit guarding me who did the actual capturing. Homeland Security swept in and took them all away with no one the wiser."

"The same with the two I captured with an assist from a first year instrument of God. We left the two I caught in an equipment shed on the roof of the local high school. There's a lot of potential in that Jane Lane girl. Hey, I'm sorry I blew it by letting this Number One guy get away."

Joan shrugs. "Couldn't be helped."

"But he's still out there! This isn't the kind of guy who will count himself lucky and just give up."

"I know. No doubt he will start organizing, looking for any other surviving cultists, recruiting new members until he has another one of his damn councils of 13. A few months from now I may have to go through this all over again."

"I let you down."

"Dylan, stop that. This is the life we share as soldiers in 'His' army. We don't always win every battle. We do our best and live our lives in between assignments, knowing that danger is a part of the deal. Although, I was more scared about your safety than my own."

"And I felt the same way. At least you were able to spend a lot of the day campaigning for your dad. I don't see anyone celebrating, so is it bad news?"

"All of the polls are closed, the votes counted and Dad finished with a thirty vote lead over Cyrus Cornwall."

"Then it's over? Your dad won?"

"Not exactly. With the vote so close, we have to wait until all of the absentee ballots are counted. That's why it is taking so long. All of the other elections in the area have been settled. The city council is picked, ol' P. Lloyd Lewis won again as our congressman, the city went solidly for Obama…"

A voice calls out, "Hey, quiet down! The news report is back to local coverage…"

From the TV: "And we finally have a winner in the tightly contested race for mayor of Arcadia. With all precincts counted and the absentee ballots tallied, WPFK News announces the new mayor, by a margin of 145 votes, is…Cyrus Cornwall! We now go live to the winner's headquarters…"

The crowd of Girardi supporters groan and boo the image of the winning candidate as he begins his victory speech. At the front of the crowd Will and Helen exchange a hug and a few whispered words. Will reluctantly goes to the microphone set up for his own victory speech, but anticipating this outcome, he had two speeches prepared…

"Friends, supporters and my dear family...how can I adequately thank you for your efforts? I know we all hoped for a different outcome, but the voters have spoken. Now, it is our duty to do our best to support the new mayor and bring healing to our city in these troubled times. I look forward to Arcadia's recovery and rapid return to prosperity. Once again thank you for your support, I will always remember fondly the friends I have made during this campaign, and that means all of you."

The crowd cheers as Helen joins Will for a last wave goodbye. Soon they are amongst the crowd, shaking hands and giving personal expressions of gratitude. A TV news team records the scene and the reporter does a brief wrap up from the "loser's headquarters". Joan, with Dylan in tow, tries to make her way over to her father, but she is delayed by an incoming text... 'In the alley, now. Dunn'.

Joan sighs. "Doesn't the man have the decency to wait until the dust settles? What am I saying, of course he doesn't. Dylan, I have to step outside to meet I.B."

"I'm going with you. I want to get a read on this man who thinks he owns my girlfriend."

"Okay, but remember, officially you know nothing about me and Homeland Security."

"Got it. Officially, I'm clueless."

Joan and Dylan work their way through the crowd to the back door and soon are in the alley. They see the long government limo parked nearby but they both hesitate with concern...

"Do you sense him?" Dylan asks.

"Yeah, it must be the Number One character, and now that he's close, I know who it is. I should have guessed as soon as you told me the man had a resentment demon inside of him. Can you...?"

"I'm on it. You deal with the spymaster."

They share a brief kiss and while Dylan slips away into the darkness, Joan heads for the limo. The back door is opened for her and Joan gives a friendly nod to I.B.'s new right hand man slash flunky...

"Agent Greene."

"Miss Girardi."

Joan slides into the backseat next to Dunn and gives him a minx of a smile. "Why I.B. Dunn, long time no see - all of 15 hours. Now what could you possibly want with little ol' me?"

Dunn frowns, a natural expression for him. "I have been given the initial interview reports with the 12 cultists that were captured. They all have a consistent story about you, Joan."

"Oh...? Now what could those looney-toons be saying about yours truly?"

"They say the reason they were after you is because they believe you work personally for God. That you are what they describe as 'an instrument of God'. They even say that is why you were involved with the destruction of the satanic cult here in Arcadia last Christmas. Supposedly Hobart Smith was trying to sell you to them so that they could ritually sacrifice you to the devil."

Joan chuckles. "My, what vivid imaginations. And do you believe...?"

Dunn snorts with derision. "Of course not. As you said, these men are looney-toons. Smith even confirmed that knowing their particular style of insanity, he tried to con them into the instrument of God story in order to rip them off. Well, where we are locking them up they'll never get a chance to tell their crazy story. Imagine, grown men mistaking your simple psychic gifts for some sort of divine connection."

"Can't put anything past you, I.B. So, I'm guessing this meeting isn't actually about the cultists?"

"Only to provide you a little laugh about their insane delusion, and to let you know we are still looking for the man they insist on calling Number One. The reason I wanted to talk with you Joan is to offer you your old job back."

"Where I'm under your total beck and call? Sorry, but that agreement expired when my cousin Simon died. Our deal to keep him out of combat is gone, and I have no desire to be your 'whistle up when you want me girl'."

"Not even if I can offer you another deal to your liking?"

"Ane here we go. This has to do with my Dad?"

"Your father's employment prospects are rather bleak. It isn't easy for a man of 53 to start over when his only experience is as a cop. Of course he does have the part time job I arranged with Homeland Security..."

"Which you are now going to withdraw unless I co-operate?"

I.B. shakes his head. "On the contrary, your father's supervisor raves about the quality of work Will Girardi does and hopes to secure more hours from him. What do you say, Joan? A safe, full time job doing background checks with good pay, benefits, a chance for promotion and even a pension - all his on my say so."

Joan sighs. "If you really think my Dad is right for the job, then offer it to him. Don't make it a condition of me working for you."

"Joan, if your father wasn't qualified I wouldn't be willing to make the offer no matter how much I wanted your services. However, there are lots of qualified applicants. His name can only move to the top of the list with my help, and you know the price of that."

"Then my answer is 'No'. Dad will land on his feet eventually, and I can help with the bills if I have to, even though that would kill my Dad's pride. But, I'd rather risk that than be your lacky again, I.B."

"Joan, am I really that hard to work for?"

"Yes. You're an obsessed man who is so goal oriented, you lose track that it is people you are using to accomplish your goals."

"Are you saying I don't care for the people who work for me?"

"To give you due credit, you care about their safety. Otherwise, you are oblivious to how you affect their lives."

"Harsh. I admit the job is uppermost in my mind..."

"How did Agent Brown die?"

"What has that got to do with anything?"

"Just making a point."

"He was looking into the satanic cult case when his small, private plane was blown up while over the ocean. We never recovered the body. Now why...?"

"Agent Brown was your right hand man for years. He held a high rank in the organization, and commanded the respect of those under him, especially since it was assumed he was so close to you. But, on the first day I got a government i.d., you gave me higher clearance than him. Brown had such a high rank, he should have been running investigations on his own."

"He sometimes did."

"On your whim. Otherwise, he was your driver, your bodyguard and flunky. Did he fetch coffee for you?"

"On occasion. What is your point, Joan? I've never treated you like that."

"Only because you see my 'gifts' as unique. Did you ever think about how much Agent Brown must have resented the way you treated him? That he could be building up such a level of resentment that he might be open to the persuasiveness of...others. Like the captured satanic cultists he was questioning?"

"What are you saying, Joan."

"That the leader of this latest Concil of 13, the 'Number One' you are looking for is actually former agent Melvin Brown."

"No, that's not possible. A man like Brown would never betray his country, especially to join such a bizarre group of men."

Joan sighs. Now that Brown is nearby, she can read him clearly. His frequent contact with captured cultists exposed him to their beliefs and the demons that linger near such men. One, the resentment demon, found a receptive audience with Brown and the man soon became possessed. The cultists' tales of their long history included legends about instruments of God. Prompted by the demon, it didn't Brown long to latch onto the idea that Joan was such a person - one that must be killed in honor of his new master, the devil.

"I.B., he's less than two blocks away, and judging by the distance, he must be planning to use a sniper rifle."

"If that's true, why didn't Brown shoot you the moment you stepped outside?"

"He would have, but there is one target in this world that he wants more than me. He's hoping that you will step outside of this bulletproof limo for even a second so he can kill you. Failing that, he will settle for me when I go out there."

Dunn tries not to believe, but he knows Joan too well to doubt her word. I.B. makes a call on his phone... "Snake Doctor, a possible sniper two blocks straight ahead from my position. Take no chances, this man is deadly."

Out in the dark, Sgt. Major Blane and his right hand man Sgt. Gerhardt exit their van and proceed with haste to the location they have been told about. Sure enough, hiding in the alley two blocks from the limo is a man concealed behind a dumpster with a sniper rifle trained on Dunn's car. Unknown to them, Dylan Hunter has worked his way to within jumping distance of Number One. Dylan is about to leap on the man when he hears...

"Drop your weapon!"

Melvin Brown doesn't hesitate as he swings the rifle tpward the men from The Unit, but they have the drop on him. Two simultaneous bullets from silenced pistols strike Brown and he slumps to the ground. Dylan rushes forward, his divine duty to perform. As Brown is gasping out his last breaths, Dylan commands...

"Foul demon, by the power of Almighty God, I cast you into to hell, never to return."

The resentment demon howls its' dismay as it is cast down and a moment later Agent Brown dies - sealing the only way back into this world for the demon. It is trapped in hell forever.

Blane and Gerhardt reach the scene, recognizing Dylan as Joan's boyfriend. Both stare speechless at what they have seen, unable to think clearly about their next move...

X X X X X

Later that evening in the Girardi dining room, the family is gathered, plus Dylan, and Grace has prepared a late supper for everyone. Everyone picks at their food, not hungry despite the long day. All have run out of things to say, and with the kids upstairs asleep, a gloomy mood settles. Grace breaks the silence...

"I guess I better start packing. Annie and I are flying back to Boston tomorrow."

Will responds, "I'll be glad to drive you to the airport. It's not like I have anything else to do."

Helen quickly adds, "Grace, thank you so much for staying here the last two months. We couldn't have gotten by without you pitching in. We all appreciate the sacrifice you made being away from Luke."

Grace nods, "Yeah, I have been missing my geeky husband. I can't wait to...uh, see him again."

"I understand." Helen says as she gives Will a hug and a kiss on the cheek. "And Will, I'm going to allow you just 48 hours to mope before you start to plan your next step in our future."

Will smiles. "Yes dear, I'll start the job hunt right away. But at 53..."

Will's cell phone rings. He checks the caller i.d. and is obviously surprised... "Good evening Mr. Mayor, and congratulations on your win. (A pause.) Yes sir, I too am proud that the campaign never went negative. (Another pause.) That's right, Acting Chief Johnson retires in January. If you are looking for a replacement, I highly recommend... What's that? Me? I'm flattered. No, no, I don't need any time to think about it. The answer is a definite yes. Fine sir, I'll talk to you tomorrow."

The family waits, excited by the anticipated news...

"I got my job back!"

There is a loud cheer and hugs all around.

Helen says, "Oh Will, this is the best news possible, and I promise I will never again complain about any level of risk the police chief takes."

Joan adds, "Dad, this is great news but why would your opponent offer you back the job of police chief?"

Will shrugs. "During the campaign Cyrus and I had the opportunity to talk on several occasions, and it never became hostile between us. He always said he respected the job I did as police chief, and it looks like he meant it."

Grace asks, "So everything is going back to normal?"

Will replies, "More or less. Cyrus was serious about his austerity message during the campaign, so I'll be facing a ten percent pay cut, and I'll have to run a department with a temporary hiring freeze. It's going to be tough, but I have to admit, I'm looking forward to getting my badge back."

"Congratulations, CHIEF Girardi." Dylan says.

"Thank you, Dylan. Hey, this calls for a celebration and we just happen to have a bottle of champagne in the refrigerator in case I won."

Helen says, "Which in a way, you did."

As Will and Helen head for the kitchen, Joan gives Grace a quick wink and takes Dylan's hand. She quickly leads him out to the front porch. They begin a long, passionate kiss...

Joan moans with pleasure. "You know, if we slipped away to your hotel suite, I don't think anyone would mind."

"You don't want to join in on the celebration?"

Joan giggles, "I have my own type of celebration in mind. Finally we can be alone with no election or weirdo cult to worry about."

"Yes, but it was tragic that man had to die."

"Agent Brown? Yeah, that was tough, especially for I.B. He actually thought of Brown as a friend - at least as much of a friend as I.B. will allow himself to have."

"I'm glad you won't be working for Issac Dunn anymore."

"Well..."

"Joan?"

"I agreed to listen if he should call me for help, and I would decide on a case by case basis."

"Why? From what I've seen of this Homeland Security connection, it's a waste of our time and training. I hated using spiritual persuasion on those two soldiers to get them to keep secret my involvement."

"You're sure they're going to go along?"

Dylan nods. "It seems these Delta Force guys often keep to themselves details of what they see and do. I guess in their line of work they encounter a lot of weird stuff. Not as weird as seeing me expel a demon, but they quickly saw the wisdom in not putting something like that in their report. It wasn't hard to convince them to co-operate. But Joan, why continue with this spy nonsense? We have our own work to do."

"Mostly it's a matter of not locking a door I may want to open. There have been times when my government connections have proved useful, and God has even okayed some of my missions. Despite the grey nature of the job, there are often good ripples. Okay?"

Dylan responds by taking Joan into his arms and hugging her. "Whatever you decide, I'm behind you 100 percent."

Joan rests her head against Dylan's chest and sighs. For the first time in a long time all seems right with the world. "Do you remember the first time you held me like this?"

Dylan nods. "The first day we met you invited me to your dad's 50th birthday party. We stepped out here to get a little fresh air, you were upset and I held you in my arms. Even then I somehow knew I loved you."

"And I thought you were the sexiest guy I had ever seen, and I really liked being in your arms...still do."

Dylan steps back, smiles and drops to one knee. He pulls a small box from his pocket and Joan holds her fingetips to her mouth. He opens the box and Joan feels tears forming. It is the same ring he used to propose a year and a half ago. After all of this time, after all of the ups and downs they have been through, he never gave up hope...

"Dylan..."

"Joan Girardi, I love you. I've always loved you and I always will. Joan...will you marry me?"

THE END

I hoped you enjoyed this Joan of Arcadia/Daria/The Unit crossover. This story ends my imaginary fifth season which consisted of: HALLOWEEN, THANKSGIVING, BIRTHDAY, TIS THE SEASON, NEW YEAR, GROUNDHOG DAY, VALENTINE, SAINT PATRICK'S DAY, SPRING BREAK, MEMORIAL DAY, INDEPENDENCE DAY, LABOR DAY AND ELECTION DAY. All reviews are greatly appreciated, and feel free to review this story and the season as a whole. I especially want to thank Charles, Samoa and Jillian for their consistent feedback - it really helped me to continue.