Disclaimer: Remy, Cable, Pete Wisdom, Scicluna, Shinobi, Selene, the Hellfire Club, and anything else that seems Marvelish belong to Marvel. Susan Taylor belongs to Paul Abbott, and the other producers of Touching Evil. Tanner belongs to some other BBC types, via the show Second Sight. None of them are being used to make a profit. Oh, and UNIT is a trademark of the BBC show Doctor Who. Sigh.

Author's notes: First of all, I'd like to mention the fact that a *lot* of this fic was inspired by Touching Evil and Second Sight. Both are gorgeously shot cop-type dramas, with quick scenes and little cuts and such. And this translated into me having a lot of tiny little choppyish scenes. In the end, I rather like them. The cast of characters also engorged way beyond my original plan. This was supposed to be this short little story, with Pete and Giles teaming up.

Unfortunately, Remy (and then Cable, damn his eyes) elbowed in, followed by Shinobi and Selene. Scicluna was a gimme after that. Taylor first appeared partnered to Creegan, but I liked the idea of setting it in her past, so that I could have the four of them bump into each other later. Not that that would make any sense, really. Tanner fit the profile.

The rest of the people snuck in.

I'm going to end my notes now--not that they'd end up longer than the fic...

Rating: R, I've actually got some icky death scenes, and language.

Dedication: This is for Acetal, and it's late. Late, by one year, eight months, and 13 days. Give or take a bit, since this dedication is being written on 21July. So. Belated happy birthday, Acey! See. Acey is wonderful. In the nearly four years I've gotten email from/known him, he's always been amusing and encouraging and supportive. And damn fun to know. So, thanks, Acey. Hope you like it. (=

And, now that the intro stuff has taken more space than an entire page (or the epilogue), I give you... fic.

The Paninaro of Angry Weasels Named Flibble
by Ana Lyssie Cotton

'News in this city
Breaks without pity
Long after the war has ended
We're still in fatigues' -- Up Against It, by the Pet Shop Boys

The British Museum rose stolid and dark against the night sky. Stars sparkled behind a veil of fog, adding eerie luminescence to the street lights. The streets were damp, having survived mid-afternoon showers, reflected light from streetlamps gleamed from them, sending eye-piercing lances into unwary eyes.

Inside the stately building, Rupert Giles worked. His head bowed over the paperwork on his desk, pen scratching occasionally. He hated paperwork, but then, that was because only *he* seemed to be able to do it right.

A mumble came from him once in a while, then would still away. The cup of tea to his right had long since grown stone cold, but he still sipped from it.

Staying late at the museum was a usual occupation for the bespectacled Englishman. Olivia was off on business jaunts, so he wasn't seeing her anymore. And the Watcher's Council had let him know that they would contact him when the time came. If the time ever came. They weren't all that impressed with him, so far. The Watcher's Council was the supposedly super-secret organisation which discovered and trained the Slayers. Slayers being the one girl in all the world Chosen to fight the demons of the night. Mainly, vampires.

Rupert had always known he was supposed to be a Watcher. His father had been one, and his mother before him, And so on down the line of Giles'. But for the moment, he wasn't one. Besides, he was happy being a curator.

Outside the wind whipped between the buildings, chilling those walking the streets, even those wrapped in mufflers and trenches.

Pete Wisdom flicked a cigarette butt to the ground and stepped on it. His trenchcoat collar was pulled up as high as it would go, and he huddled into it, cursing the wind. An unlit cig was hanging from his lips as he studied the museum.

A figure sauntered towards him, the glowing tip of a French-cut cigarette in his mouth.

"Well?"

"Are you prepared?"

Wisdom snorted, "Lead on."

--

Before Remy LeBeau could lead his charge into the museum, a footstep sounded nearby. And a tall man with silvered hair stepped out to meet them.

"Wisdom, what the hell do you think you're doing?"

"Sod off."

"Make me."

"....Useless wanker."

"Not at the moment, no. You remember Dom, right?"

"She still insane?"

"Must be."

Gambit leaned against the light post, and watched the two fence. It didn't matter to him if they went on all night. Wisdom would still pay him his money. He wasn't quite sure who the man was, but Wisdom seemed to know him. Remy finished his French cut, then sighed wistfully. It had been the last of a pack he'd picked from some stockbroker's pocket several weeks back.

Smoking them sparingly, he'd managed to make them last. And now they were gone.

Continuing to studiously ignore the other two combatants, Remy wondered if Pete's boss-lady would be pleased with his tardiness if they didn't fetch the item that night. From what he'd heard of Scicluna, second-in-command of Black Air, the super-secret black ops crew of Britain, she wasn't one to cross.

The streetlight fizzed the lightbulb flickering. It reflected off the man's hand, catching Gambit's eye. It was as if he were plated in armour. Remy frowned and looked closer. It wasn't armour. It was as if the man's arm was actually metallic. He blinked, tuning back into the conversation.

"I owe you nothin'." Wisdom snapped, reaching up to light his cigarette. For a brief moment, the flare of the lighter illuminated his face, then it was gone. Even then, it was still easy to see the inscrutable look he wore.

"Are you trying to ruin your nightsight, Wisdom?" demanded the tall, burly man.

"I told you Dayspring, sod off."

"Not until you tell me why you're skulking outside the British Museum in the middle of the night."

"For my health."

"It's cold and drizzling."

"I like rain."

Remy decided it was time to step in. This was becoming tedious. Besides, he wanted to get back to bed. Where it was warm. "Excuse me, gentleman."

Wisdom glared at him, "Stuff it."

"I don't have to stand in the rain and take abuse from you, Wisdom. I can quite easily leave you here, the money is still going to be in my account in the morning." Remy straightened and turned to go.

"Ah, wait. Bloody thief."

Dayspring looked amused, "I thought he was leaving because you were insulting him."

"Shut up, Nate."

--

The paperwork was finally too much. With a muttered curse, Giles shoved the stack to the side, removed his glasses, and began rubbing his eyes.

It was definitely time to go home. A cup of tea--he grimaced at the sludge in his mug--warm tea, sounded lovely. And then bed.

He stood and began collecting papers and books into stacks. A few would be locked into the safe above his filing cabinet. The rest would end up left in neat piles on his desk.

The office itself wasn't very large, a desk, a chair, a two-drawer filing cabinet, and a long table currently stacked with small artefacts made up his workspace. They'd wanted to install a computer a few months back and he'd told them in no uncertain terms to sod off.

It wasn't that Giles didn't like computers. In point of fact, he hated them.

They were small and compact, and could do gods-knew-what to his filing system. Besides, he didn't know how to use one.

With a tired mutter, he shut the safe door and spun the dial.

Turning, he pondered the likelihood of finding a cab this late at night. There really wasn't any, and besides, it wasn't that far a walk to his flat.

He picked up his umbrella and bag, then paused to make sure he hadn't forgotten anything. His jacket waved balefully at him from the coatrack. It was a nice black leather piece, left over from his days as a belligerant, rebellious youth. Giles only kept it because it was warm. Besides, it was kind of sexy. At least, Olivia thought so.

Grabbing his bag with the umbrella hand, he scooped up the jacket on the way to his door.

The hall he stepped out into was half-lit, thanks to the non-existance of good lighting. The overhead lights were supposed to have two of the long thin bulbs, but only had one.

It made for some interesting shadows as he strolled down the back stairs. As if there were spiderwebs everywhere, when there weren't. Sometimes they looked like constellations and planets. For now, they looked suddenly like three men creeping across the lower hallway.

He froze for a moment and studied them. In the lead was a dark-haired man in a brown trenchcoat. Immediately following him, just as stealthily, was a slightly shorter man. He was also dark-haired and clad in a trenchcoat. A lit cigarette dangled from his lips as he studied the back of the leader. Bringing up the rear was a tall, hulking man, silvered hair covering his head. A black trenchcoat was wrapped around him.

While he was studying them, they slipped into the hallway further and were lost to sight. Giles thought for an instant, then decided the best course of action would be to attempt to apprehend them. After all, he'd recently been training strenuously in case he ended up with a Slayer, hadn't he?

The logical course of action would have been to go back and call the police. Giles was tired, irritated, and ready for a fight. He chose not to think of logic.

Anyway, it wasn't as if he couldn't take them. Right? They were just three scruffy kids, probably. Right.

--

Nathan Dayspring cursed under his breath in Askani. Deciding to help Wisdom with his little heist had probably not been the wisest course of action. Even if it meant Wisdom would owe him one. The hallway they were creeping through was dark, thanks to the crappy illumination some accountant had probably decided was cost-cutting.

Of course, he only had himself to blame. After all, he could have followed Wisdom's advice and sodded off. But the chance to gain another favour from the enigmatic Englishman, and work alongside this LeBeau had been too good to pass up.

And then he heard it. An almost silent sound, a momentary intake of breath. So light as to be missed, if you were breathing yourself. But Nathan hadn't lived as long as he had without being able to hear things most others didn't.

Someone was following them. Wisdom had heard it, too. A moment later, LeBeau stiffened slightly, then continued on as if nothing had happened.

Reassured that the other two knew of their pursuer, Nathan reached back telepathically and lightly touched the man's mind.

::...bloody kids...prank...teach 'em a lesson or two...damned late night....::

Nathan almost laughed at what he picked up. Apparently the man thought they were teenagers on a prank. He was going to be in for quite a surprise.

LeBeau opened one of the many doors along the hall and slipped through. Pete glanced in, looked back at Nathan, then followed LeBeau. Nathan stepped inside the room, turned and closed the door softly. He kept an eye peering through a slight crack between jamb and door.

A moment later the man slipped into the room across the hall from them. He came out about a minute later, a large broadsword held calmly and assuredly in his hands. With a glance at Nathan's door, he slipped back down the hall.

Nathan closed the door the rest of the way and turned to Wisdom. "He's gone to lay an ambush. Any other way out of here?" Wisdom was holding a small penlight over a case, where LeBeau was picking the lock.

"None that are unguarded." LeBeau replied sotto voce as he finished picking the lock on the case. He stepped back and bowed to Wisdom with a flourish.

Without answering him, Wisdom carefully pulled the top up, wincing as the hinges creaked softly. He shone the penlight in for a moment, studying what was there.

Too far away to see more than a slight glitter from what was within the case, Dayspring turned back to the door and opened it. With just the one man as an opponent, they'd get out quickly. He was tempted to just knock the man out now, but Wisdom would probably prefer a more direct confrontation.

LeBeau tapped him on the shoulder, and he eased the door open. The corridor was empty. He slipped out, eyeing the passageway further down, then turned back the way they'd come.

Searching ahead mentally, Nathan found the man again.

::...yawn....stay awake, Rupert....::

A moment later, they were back in the stairwell. The man swung the sword downwards, in a clean arc. It made almost no sound, but Nathan had been listening for it. Telekinesis wrapped around the sword, sending it clattering to the floor.

--

For a second, Rupert was startled, then he dropped into a judo stance in front of Nathan, and waited. The sword glittered on the floor nearby, and he tried to figure out why it was there, and not in his hands.

And at that moment, the scrawnier of the men stepped forward, and levelled a gun at him. "On the floor."

Giles took a good look at the men and winced inwardly. Logic was beginning to make fun of him as he realised they were certainly not children. And there was no way he could take all three. One of them. Maybe. But the scrawny one looked wiry, the burly one could fold him in half, and the other one was probably just as dangerous.

The gun was still being pointed at him, too. "Look, you bloody plonker, on the floor!"

"I--" Giles looked at the barrel of the gun, as it seemed to get bigger and bigger, it was so close. He could almost-- with a lightning fast movement (one he would pay for later with sore muscles) he lashed out, slamming the man's arm away. The gun and hand hit the wall, the man reflexively letting it go off.

Giles followed the hit up with a kick to the gut which sent the wiry one sprawling to the floor. His cohorts were already stepping forwards, the burly one reaching languidly out and placing a hand on Giles' forehead. "You will sleep." He intoned softly.

A wave of exhaustion slammed into Giles, sending him reeling. He never recovered from it, as the other man took advantage, and slammed doubled fists into the back of his neck.

With a groan, Giles slid towards the floor, stars and black surrounding him. And then something slammed into the back of his head, and everything went dark.

--

Giles woke up to find dirt in his mouth, and pain pounding his temples. He groaned as he opened one eye and found himself nose to tile with the lower hall of the Museum's backrooms.

For a moment, this puzzled him, and then the events of--the night before? The last few minutes? How long HAD he been unconscious?--flooded back to him. Three men. They'd gone into one of the rooms where the more esoteric things were stored, and stolen... what?

In all the hot impulsiveness he'd had to fight them, he'd forgotten they might have actually taken something. He groaned again and slowly pushed up to his hands and knees.

Several muscles protested this misuse, and he nearly laid down again. Only the need to find out what had been stolen spurred him onwards. Dimly, he thought he'd have to call the police.

It took a few minutes, but Giles was soon on his feet. He swayed unsteadily as he slowly made his way down the hall. Halfway to the door, he suddenly remembered his own appropriation of the fifteebth-century berzerker sword.

"Bloody hell." He couldn't find it, so he searched harder, wincing as his vision tilted.

A moment later, he decided to leave it wherever it had fallen, and continued to the room.

There were no signs above any of the doors in this hall, and less information inside, save a few hastily scratched notes. And, of course, the book. He finally reached the one the three had entered, and slipped in.

None of the cases were open, but that meant nothing. Giles flipped the light on, and looked around. There were eight cases, each set on a table. The glass on all was untouched. With a muttered curse, he began systematically looking in and viewing the contents, searching for what was missing.

He didn't touch anything, and he tried not to breath, either. Memories of bad cop-dramas imported from America, filtered through his mind. Couldn't they do DNA testing, finger-print analyses and the like? Deciding they could, he was distracted from his careful search and almost missed the bare spot in the fifth case.

Item number 456, read the number detailed on the card next to the bare spot. Giles studied it for a moment, then turned and began searching the room for the book. Every room had one, even if it wasn't updated regularly. They contained a listing of all numbers, and what items the numbers represented.

He finally found the large book sitting under one of the cases. The binding was cracked brown leather covered in flaking gold and silver lettering with pen scratches dotting the numerous parchment pages. Propping it on the case, he flipped through the hand-written pages, muttering the number.

"345, 346, 347..." A moment later, he paused to read the description on item 378. It was apparently a bronze stake, found in an Egyptian tomb. "Intriguing..." Then he shoved his glasses back up his nose and began turning the pages again.

Several of the pages had apparently been dropped on a floor, walked on, dipped in mud, then put back. Luckily, the entry on Item number 456 wasn't on those pages.

It wasn't on any of them.

The pages merrily showed him 455, then skipped on to 457. 456 didn't exist. Either the thiefs had removed it (the most likely scenario--except, why leave the card? To tease them?), or it had been removed long before (less likely, but also possible. The book was locked up, after all). He pocketed the card.

Giles cursed in several esoteric languages and set the book down with a thump. How irritating, now he had no idea what had been taken. He grabbed the white card and pocketed it. With another oath he stalked back to the door and headed for his office. The police needed to know of the theft, and he could use a shot of the brandy there.

Even if it was only for medicinal purposes.

--

They called her Ella Mae, had forever and ever. Of course, back in the day it had jokingly been Ella Mae West. She'd been gorgeous when she danced. All shapely legs and lovely smile. And her hair all done up with jewels and needles. She didn't look like that now. She was just Ella Mae; none remembered ever knowing her by any other name.

She trundled all along the lower east side, basket in hand. Occassionally dossing on this house-step, in that portico, under that ledge. A sweet old lady everyone knew.

If you wanted something stolen, you went to Ella. If something needed bought, she'd know where to get it. Wonderful font of information on everything, was Ella. And you knew the tax you paid for it. Money. Sometimes beer, usually a hot meal. If you couldn't pay that, you'd promise your service. Maybe she'd send you on an errand. Maybe just use you as a messenger.

All of this was going through Pete's head as he slipped through the shadows of the street. Ella had demanded he give her an audience earlier that week. So he'd sent a time he'd show up.

The day after a heist didn't seem promising, but at least he wasn't going to have a sodden head this morning. And you needed to think clear around Ella Mae. She was sharper than a hotknife.

The street turned, and Pete turned with it, ignoring the puddles and other pedestrians. Ahead was his destination, The Peacock Lounge, as it called itself. In reality, it was just a front for many different underground activities. Rumours abounded that even the skinheads ran couriers out of the Peacock.

Pete sauntered inside. It looked like an ordinary bar. Tables and chairs in semi-formal groupings, a few booths further back, doors to a kitchen, and a walnut-topped counter towards the side. Scars riddled the wood, most of the "Jenny loves Bobby" type, or cigarettes and cigars left burning on it too long. A few were bullet holes, smoothed down and burnished, so it caught the eye.

The clientele were dark-clad boozers, some club kids, and a few suit-types out to slum for lunch. Pete ignored them all and went up to the bar.

"Yeah?" The bartender couldn't have been more than 18, blond hair sticking up untidily like a haystack. His eyes were dark, and a cigar dangled from one limp hand.

"Scotch."

"Oh, yeah, like we've got that, ya bloody toff." The kid rolled his eyes, but turned away and picked up the bar phone. A few whispered sounds, and he turned back to Pete, "She's waitin' fer ya."

Pete nodded and stepped into the kitchen area. Immediately, a man stopped him. Dark hair, chef's hat, muscles. Pete raised his arms and let the large man with the scars and bruises pat him down. Besides, it wasn't like he had anything to hide. Always be prepared for strip searches by huge men was one of Pete's mottos. The man removed Pete's trenchcoat and checked the lining for anything weapon-like. He didn't give it back.

Once done, the man gestured silently to the walk-in refrigerator. With an equally silent nod, Wisdom stepped into the fridge.

"You rang, Ella?"

She looked up at him and chuckled. Barely four feet and a few inches, Ella Mae was towered over by nearly everyone. Under the masses of skirt, she might have a nice figure, but no one had tried to check, in recent memory. "Yes, dear. Now, how did your night go?"

"Not too bad. Stayed in and got some sleep."

"That's not what I heard from a friend down Museum Way."

"Must have been mistaken."

"Then you won't be interested in knowing the police are looking for you and your two friends." Ella chuckled, "Not that it matters, they won't find the Thief. And Dayspring might as well not exist. But you, my lad, you, they'll find."

Pete studied her, then shrugged, "They'll have a hard time doin' it when I'm on vacation."

"Don't be daft, ye bugger. They'll find ye b'fore ye leave." She snorted, her accent thickening, "Now, I can get them after someone else, who deserves it. And ye can go free. Jus' gimme the word."

A choice, then. Pete's brain raced, trying to think of a way out of this. There was only the one door to the fridge. And Mr. I Bench-press lorries was guarding it. He shrugged nonchalantly, "Don't know wot y'mean, Ella. Now, wot'd you want?"

"Wisdom, too bad you're not as smart as the name says." Ella sidled past him and turned at the door to look at him. "Try not to freeze on us. Bad for business, dead bodies in the meat locker."

"Now, Ella, can't--" Pete began, starting after the ex-dancer.

The beefy guard slammed the door in his face. A set of clicks proved the locks on the other side had been shot home. Pete cursed.

The fan in the room turned on, the air perceptibly getting colder.

Pete cursed again. The bouncer still had his trench.

The stored food around him seemed uncaring of his predicament. The milk going so far as to ignore him completely and slowly go sour. The cheeses continued contentedly moulding while the ground round slowly attained sal monella (Nirvana, for meat).

With another curse he flopped down onto a stack of boxed lettuces. They creaked for a moment, then sagged under him. He ignored it and thought about the situation at hand.

If he used his mutant ability to escape the cell, that bit of cover would be blown. Very few knew that Pete was a master of what he called 'hot knives'--energy, really, at a super-heated frequency. And the fewer that knew, the happier he was. Pete wasn't a big fan of the damned things. They'd helped him kill too many too easily. He'd dealt with that, but they were still too easy to misuse.

And if he didn't, Ella would probably have him beaten, tortured, stripped, sexually molested... Pete paused and contemplated the last idea for a moment.

Not that Pete was one to enjoy abuse. But sex, even kinky, painful sex, had a certain appeal. Maybe it was the fact that he'd be warmer while it was occuring.

The thought apparently caused someone outside the refrigerator to turn the temperature from freezing to cold as hell. Pete found himself suddenly shivering, and glared around the room. The glare served its purpose, since it brought him the sight of a tiny high-tech camera nestled in the corner. He studied it for a moment, trying not to tense.

So, Ella was watching him. If he'd been a cat, Pete would have curled around his feet and tucked his tail over his nose. Since he wasn't, he settled into the lettuces more firmly, drew up his legs and contemplated what Scicluna would do to him for being late at the rendezvous.

If he had a choice between Ella or Scicluna the Ice Bitch, Pete would go with Ella. Ella, at least, would kill him eventually. Scicluna wouldn't.

--

Rupert Giles, supposedly the man in charge of the British Museum, threw another small object off his desk. It bounced off the door and clattered to the floor, joining the other pens, pencils and paper clips. Have lax security? HIM? The nerve of the police, telling him how to run his own building.

And it wasn't like the officers themselves had been any help. Oh, no, they'd taken the descriptions and then claimed that it could be 'months' before anything came of it.

With a snort, Giles pulled open his desk drawer, searching for the file he'd put there that morning. It contained everything he knew about the robbery, except what had been in the case. Frustration crossed his features. No one yet had admitted to knowing what was there. Which was highly suspicious. SOMEONE should know.

His phone rang, distracting him slightly. "Giles."

"Hello, Mr. Giles. I hear you've had a break-in."

The voice was nearly accent-less, as if the caller were attempting to disguise his voice. "Who is this?"

"I'm one of the, how shall I say this? Investors? Of your museum. I would be very interested in knowing about this break-in."

Giles took great pleasure in dashing the anonymous person's hopes, "I'm afraid I can't help you."

"I'm afraid I'll have to contact your supervisor, then."

"I am the head of the museum, my dear sir." Giles smiled and laid the phone in the cradle. "Goodbye."

It rang again immediately, and Giles decided not to answer it. After all, he had a museum to run.

--

With a snort of disgust, Shinobi Shaw threw his cell phone against the wall. It shattered into a bunch of little high-tech gizmos. Not that Shaw cared, he had the cash to buy entire phone companies. One tiny cell phone was a drop in the bucket.

The room around him reflected expensive tastes. Silk-covered pillows in variegated tones of black and grey, a teak-wood desk, specially imported from India in tiny finger-size pieces. Gold accents on the desk, and picture frames. A Degas on one wall, a van Gogh on the other. The carpet was thick enough to swim in, and the draperies were an understated cream shot through with silver and gold.

"Incompetent British fool."

"Something wrong, Shinobi?" The voice slid silkily across his ears.

He turned and smiled at the woman standing in the office doorway. Her black hair was sleekly in a bun, echoing the almost business-like attire she wore. A grey pants suit with strategically placed cutouts was form-fitted to her lithe body. "Not at all, Selene. My dear, you're as ravishing as ever."

"My thanks." She shrugged one black-clad shoulder. "I take it you struck out with the museum?"

"Yes."

"Don't worry, Shaw. I'm sure we'll be able to track the thieves. Remember, Ella said she had a good idea who it was."

"Yes." He hissed between clenched teeth. "But this waiting is interminable."

"Waiting is an artform, child."

Shinobi glared narrowly at the woman standing in front of him. "I am not a child."

"Then stop acting as one." She replied calmly, turning away to flip idly through the papers on his desk. "Besides, I believe there are other things to discuss."

"Like?"

"The matter of Jeremiah Graf."

"I told you, I handled it."

"Not as well as you seem to think. Graf went to the police." She shrugged gracefully, and smiled. "Not that he'll be able to tell them anything, but it will look suspicious if he dies suddenly. Especially after being near-death once already."

"At least he told us what we needed to know. And we have that page he removed from the antiquities book at the museum."

"Yes, but with the amulet stolen, we're back to square one."

"Not yet, my dear, not yet. After all, Scicluna will see fit to turn it over to us. We just have to think of the correct persuasion." He stepped towards her, smiling lazily, "And my wishes?"

Her eyes narrowed, "I don't think she will be that amenable."

"What if I were to tell you she ran this theft at my behest?"

A slight smile crossed Selene's face. "Deliver on your promise, and we'll see."

--

Pete had almost decided to risk it and burn a hole in the wall when the door opened inwards, bringing a blast of warm air with it. Ella stood there, framed. "Pete, old boy, I've decided this is all silly. I'll let ya go."

"Yes. Quite right." He sidled over to her and stepped out into the kitchen. "And let me guess, at some point this evening, I'll be set upon by a bunch of bully boys."

"I would never--" She started, looking shocked.

"You may not, your flunkies, may be. I want a promise, Ella. I've bloody worked my fingers off for y'before. Safe passage for a week."

"Fine." She glared at him, "Now get the hell out of my sight."

He did, almost running out the back door, down the alley, out to pavement and up the street. He half-jogged, half-walked for seven blocks, then slowed, panting and gasping for breath.

Pete had no idea why Ella had let him go. His guess of further assaults was most likely true, though. Even if she gave him a free passage, there were still those who didn't listen to her. And they wouldn't hesitate to come after him. Especially if she let it slip that he'd tricked her into the passage.

With these wonderful, happy thoughts going through his head, Wisdom ducked out into a busier street. And failed to notice the young pickpocket that went by him.

--

Jemmie Harnem gleefully flipped through his stash for that day. Several nice leather wallets, a few bits and bobs, and IT. He didn't remember which of the people he'd gotten it from, but it attracted him oddly. All red, veined with flickering gold. The chain it was hung on was a dull gold-black, but it hung low enough that Jemmie could wear it without anyone noticing.

Pushing a scrap of greasy red hair off his face, he quickly divvied up the money. One cut to Ella, one to Dory down on the docks, and one for himself.

He wasn't planning on giving anyone his new neck-wear. It was his, fair and square. 'Sides, Ella and Dory'd been fleecing him for years. With a nod of his fourteen-year old head, Jemmie pocketed the money, leaving the wallets in the trash.

As he stepped out of the alley, something made him look back. Straight into the eyes of Billy Boyd. Billy smiled, teeth missing everywhere. "Hallo, Jemmie."

"Billy." Carefully backing away from the man who was his uncle, he looked around wildly for a place to run. It wasn't that he didn't like Billy, but Billy didn't like him. In fact, BIlly had this habit of stealing his entire day's take. And meting out a beating as well.

As far as Jemmie was concerned, there was no such thing as familial loyalty. Hadn't been for years.

"Whatcha got there, little nephew? Having fun with other people's wallets?"

"Bite me." Jemmie replied. Then he turned and began slipping through the crowd, using the same skills that let him pick pockets to get him as far from Billy as he could.

It nearly worked. Except that Billy had brought a friend. Jemmie's cousin, Bob. Bob was huge, almost as large as the wrestlers on TV. Bob smiled and snagged a negligent arm. "Uncle wants to see you."

"He can--" Jemmie struggled, digging in his heels, darting his eyes in hopes of an escape route. "--go to hell. Lemme go! HELP!"

People around them ignored them, some looking disgusted to have their routine interrupted. Others merely averted their eyes and quickened their paces. Jemmie whimpered as Billy joined them, and both men dragged him into the alley.

"For that little insolence, I'm afraid I'm going to have to punish you." Billy smiled and began feeling his way through Jemmie's pockets. He quickly came up with the money. "Lovely. Now that you've helped out yer uncle, I guess I'll be lenient. I'll only cut you a little."

"No..." Jemmie struggled in vane, fear darkening his vision. Sweat stung his eyes as Billy pulled out a knife and began playing it around Jemmie's chest. "No."

"Yes, my lad. And you deserve this to." With that, Billy slid the knife into the shirt, pricking skin. Blood begin trickling down from the pinpoint. With a slow movement, Billy drew the knife along, playing, cutting deeper as he went.

The blood welled harder, faster, beginning to feel like a warm rain. Pain was there, too, tickling at him. Jemmie stared down, realising the blood was beginning to fall onto the still-concealed necklace. The stone began to flicker with golden lights.

"'S glowin'," he mumbled, as Billy cut another line in his chest. This time he couldn't feel the pain, as a sense of numbness spread through him.

The knife caught in the chain during the third pass, exposing it to view. By now Jemmie was near-unconscious from pain and the loss of blood.

Billy blinked and grinned, "Well, lookie here. Our nephie's been hidin' from us."

"Pretty." Bob announced, his hand reaching for it. Billy slapped it away, grabbing the chain and yanking. With a small snap, the chain slipped off Jemmie's neck.

"Stay away from it, you dolt. It's mine."

"Shiny."

Billy snorted, "I guess you get off light now, Jemmie." He held the necklace up, studying the stone in the light. "Seems t'be quartz. Ought to fetch me something."

"Shiiiny," Bob said softly, dropping the body of his cousin. Unmindful of it, he actually stepped on an arm as he tried to get the shiny thing.

"Stop that, you oaf."

"Want."

"Bob, I--" Billy's comment went unfinished, as a strange howling sound came from above him. He looked up, and saw nothing. A moment later, the sound came again, this time from the stone.

With a start, he realised that it was glowing a deep red-orange, the gold strands blazing. "Wha?"

Something rippled through him, an almost imperceptible feeling of dread. The feeling was followed by intense pain. His hands ached with cold, then hot. Blister appeared, burning as they exploded, leaving a sizlzing mass of liquid to burn into his arms and legs. The smell of burnt flesh was rather unappetising. With a moan of pain, he dropped the necklace, not even hearing it hit the ground, as his hands were severed at the wrist. The stumps bled copiously, and he stared at them, stupefied.

"Shiny..."

Billy screamed as something began pulling his shoulders apart. From the inside out, they slowly disengaged themselves. He watched in horrified fascination as his hands folded themselves on the bricks, his arms criss-crossing next to them. And then he collapsed, his legs suddenly smashed into splinters, as if a sledgehammer had gone at them for a few minutes.

The pain was excruciating, the sounds of tearing flesh and breaking bones loud in his ears, and then something sucked his eyes out. Blindly, he screamed again, a liquid, bloody sound as the same something pulverised his jaw and throat.

For a moment, the thing that had been Billy Boyd writhed in its own blood and pain. And then it was silenced as the howling began again. The howling wrapped around the body, then seemed to disappear, returning a moment later as the heart slammed outwards through the ribcage. The bloody piece of viscera flopped onto the ground and lay there, still beating.

During this time, Bob had been greedily watching the shiny spiral around the stone. Occasionally, he'd reach out and touch it, giggling.

And then he screamed as the whirlwind howl turned to him.

--

Pete cursed as he ran up the stairs to his apartment. He could faintly hear the telephone ringing. He didn't doubt that it was Scicluna. After all, who would be calling to ream him out for missing their appointment two minutes after he got back to his flat?

He slammed the door open and dove across the carpeting covered in bottles, pizza boxes, and assorted clothing. "Wisdom." He wheezed out as he finished collapsing into a stack of boxes and socks.

"About time."

"You'll have to give me ten minutes. I had a bit of trouble. Be in soon." He slammed the phone down and glared at it balefully.

The aroma from the pile he lay in hit him then, and he rolled, groaning. "Laundry. Must do laundry soon."

Once on his back, he contemplated a cigarette, then decided to wait until he'd *really* need it. The ceiling was cracked and stained, and, sort of scary to look at. So he sat up and began rummaging in his pockets for the amulet Scicluna had wanted so badly.

"Bloody thing. Now, where is it..."

He frowned as the first forray only turned up his much-abused lighter and fags. The second turned up pocket lint. The third... nothing. "Bloody hell."

It was gone. So was his wallet, for that matter. Trying desperately to remember where he could have lost them, he realised he must have been pickpocketed. "Damned gits. Wouldn't know a fuckin' honest days' work if it bit them on the bum. Take my wallet and cash and... Shit."

The information he'd been given was coming back now. About the little amulet. It was dangerous, highly volatile. That was why Pete'd been carrying it. The sooner he got it out of his own possession, the better.

With a groan he flopped back into the pile of socks. Scicluna was going to flay him alive. Maybe. Maybe she'd just shoot him.

Might be less painful, in the long run.

--

Jemmie woke up to a really nasty smell, and the feeling that he'd missed something big. His chest ached when he moved, and it all came flooding back. Billy, the necklace... the glowing. And something howling. He shook his head and winced, then sat up.

He nearly screamed at what he saw, he did gag at the sight as his mind tried to refuse to see what his eyes were registering.

Two pairs of hands, two pairs of arms. Two things that... were wearing the same clothing Billy and Bob had been. Next to the closer pile of humanity lay the chain and stone. He picked it up slowly, ignoring the rumbling in his gut as another waft of stench surrounded him.

Staring down at his chest he realised it was covered in blood and a few cuts. His shirt was in tatters, but still serviceable. Quickly wiping the blood off (actually just smearing it around a bit more) he replaced the gold chain around his neck and let the stone flop behind his shirt. It was sort of hidden.

With a last glance at the corpses, he stepped down to the back of the alley, and disappeared.

If anyone had been watching the bodies from the moment they were made, they would have been able to note things, now that an hour had passed. While the hands and arms were still intact, the bodies themselves were slowly beginning to decay. Mold growing in a soft orange fuzz everywhere.

But no one was watching, so they just quietly decayed at an accelerated rate all by themselves.

Pete Wisdom arrived on the scene about an hour later. The scent of burning flesh and blood still covered the area like a really bad comforter. He looked at the corpses with revulsion, trying to place time of death. A frown crossed his face as he considered the blistered hands and arms, still completely intact and whole.

Going by the bodies, the deaths had come weeks before. Maybe months. But the arms... He shivered then, looking around for anyone else. There had been nothing in the papers about his, nothing heard down the Crown. Therefore it was recent.

And hadn't been found yet.

Well, not by anyone in authority.

Something in the way they were laid out worried him, too. He glanced back at the busy street he'd come from. It was the street he'd taken earlier, on his way back from Ella's. If Pete was correct, it was where he'd lost his wallet and the amulet.

A glance further back brought a garbage bin to his attention. He stepped over the corpses with a grimace and walked back to it. Several wallets lay at the top, his among them.

He leaned against the bin, thinking. He'd gotten pickpocketed, then the person had dumped the wallets here. And taken the amulet... where? And had they--he glanced back at the corpses and blanched. The person who'd stolen the amulet had obviously had enemies.

There was the sound of a siren nearby, and he swore, then ducked back down the alley, heading for what was sure to be a back way out of the neighborhood.

--

With a sigh that nearly sent him coughing, thanks to the dust it had provoked, Giles found another set of floor-plans. Apparently, his predecessor had had everything useful carted up into the attic and left it to rot. It was where Giles himself was searching for information on the piece that had been stolen.

Having no other surface, Giles spread the sheets out on the floor, studying them. "First floor... Second... ah... Ground."

Most of the rooms were marked as galleries, and towards the back, offices. And then two rooms, one of them the room the artefact was stolen from were simply marked, "Magical Storage."

Something twigged at the back of his mind, and Giles was suddenly reminded of rumours about the Museum and it's "Magic" collection. Close to a hundred years previously, the museum had nearly been shut down by the church because it displayed things of a magical nature.

Giles pulled his glasses off and chewed on the earpiece. What had been stolen? Something magical? And he still didn't know what. The page was gone from the book--mysteriously.

Or mundanely. Someone could easily have removed it, considering the state the rooms down there were in. Giles made a mental note to change that.

"Mr. Giles?" The tentative voice broke into his thoughts, and he glanced up. Young Marion Lakewood was peering into the attic.

"Yes, Lakewood?"

"There's a man here to see you, sir."

"What about?"

"He wouldn't say. Just insisted on seeing the director of the museum."

Giles sighed and stood, dusting his hands off. Not that it helped much, since he was covered in dust and tweed. "I'll be right down, then."

After all, it might be someone useful, like a new investor. Right?

--

The streets bustled with people going to and fro, in and out of buildings. Some were in terrible hurries, others merely strolling. The sun shone brightly on them, warming some and blinding others who'd had too much to drink the night before. A small figure, wearing a tattered shirt and dirty jeans, slithered through the crowd, his head down.

Jemmie didn't know what to do. His uncle was dead, but maybe that was a bad thing. Or was it good? He shivered, unsure. Against his chest, the pendant lightly tapped as he walked. Sometimes it almost spilled out between the slashes, other times it seemed to hide.

It made him nervous, as if it were almost aware.

That thought made him jump, and he decided to find someplace quiet to sit and think. A small alley alcove came into view and he scampered between two businessmen on cellphones and crouched down in it.

Whatever had killed Billy and Bob was powerful. More powerful than anything he'd ever seen. For a moment, Jemmie imagined having that power himself. He shivered as something seemed to wrap around him, as if it wanted him to do something. And then it was gone as if it had never been.

He shook his head and stood, troubled. Maybe Ella Mae would know what to do. Besides, he needed to let her know that he hadn't any money today. A sigh escaped him. No dinner again.

--

"--I don't understand, how can ya do this t'me?"

"I love you, I do, but, I can't..."

"Oh, God--"

"No, don't cry my love. It will be okay. I promise."

"It won't, it won't, it--"

The image of two women holding each other froze for an instant, then disappeared as the television flipped off. With a muttered oath Remy LeBeau tossed the remote to the desk and flopped backwards on the bed. He had no clue why he was still hanging around London. Maybe it was the weather--sunny, mild, a bit of fog... Or maybe it was that he thought Wisdom might need him for something else.

More cash from the little spy-man would be nice. Especially if it got him another nice hotel room on someone else's tab. He smirked and got up to saunter over to the wet bar. The room was a master suite, with a living room, bedroom, bath and wet bar including refrigerator. The wet bar was in the living room, the bedroom off of that. Plush carpeting, lush comforters, and beautiful paintings on the wall made the place seem almost a Trump palace.

A sound from outside the door to the hallway caused him to pause.

With a slight shudder, the door slammed inwards, the boot which had applied the correct amount of force to do so meeting the floor as he blinked.

A blonde woman in business clothes smiled at him. It didn't reach her ice blue eyes. "LeBeau."

"To what do I owe the pleasure of this... visit, chere?" Rapidly scanning a mental database of individuals this could be, Remy quickly settled on Wisdom's boss, Scicluna. As the lady in question, it fit.

"Tell me, LeBeau. Was last night's raid successful?" She stepped into the hotel room as if she owned it, gracefully sauntering to the couch and settling down on the arm.

"Who's asking?"

"Don't be dense, LeBeau. I paid for this hotel room, and I can just as easily have you thrown out of it."

"Ah... Scicluna." He nodded, "We made out fine, bar the occassional late night worker."

"Really."

She sounded like she didn't believe him. Remy found it in himself to blame her--she might be quite gorgeous but that meant nothing when she was questioning his abilities as a thief. "Really, chere. Wisdom has the amulet, Cable's gone off to some northern place, and I'm leaving for Paris in the morning."

"Nothing went wrong, then."

"Exactly."

"Really." She shifted, crossing her legs, "Tell me then, LeBeau, why it is that Wisdom has failed to meet me, and the one time I talked to him on the phone he was none too informative?"

"He's been busy?"

"I have a better theory. I think you failed to pick up the amulet last night, and you're both covering it up. Those moneys that are in your account can be removed."

So it was down to threats now. Remy rolled his eyes, "Look, Scicluna, I be a t'ief, and I be good at it. We got the amulet. I don't know why he's acting strange, but he is the one in possession of the item in question. Now, if you're taking my money back, I *will* lodge a protest."

"With who?"

"Thieves Guild. They don't take kindly to contract breaking."

Her face gave away none of her thoughts as she stood, "Very well. It won't come to that, LeBeau. And it anyone has broken contract, it's you. But, don't worry, Wisdom will fry for it. You won't."

She stalked towards the door, then turned as she got there, "Oh, and I'll tell them you had an--accident. The door will go on your bill."

LeBeau shrugged, "T'anks."

"Good day."

As soon as she'd left, Remy let the poker face drop and tried to figure out what might have gone wrong. If nothing else, Wisdom was apparently in trouble. Remy considered for a moment, then moved to the phone. "Front desk? Put me through to the airport, please. Bookings section."

--

The building in front of him towered up into the sky, full and imposing. Wisdom watched it warily, wondering if it would kill him. Light reflected from half a dozen small windows, surrounded by tons of blank grey stone that was molded and chopped into various cornices and lattice-works.

With a snort at his mental imaginings, Pete stepped inside and waited a moment for his eyes to adjust. He was here, at the library, to look up the amulet. After all, Scicluna hadn't told him anything about it, and now he'd lost it. Might as well see what he could find--looking into death-by acid, evisceration and other things would be nice, too.

After all, if the thing WAS being used by someone, he should find a way to protect himself against it. Right? Never mess with old religious objects. That's what an old teacher had once said. And then said teacher had gone off and converted to Buddhism.

Pete sighed at the no smoking sign on the wall and sauntered off towards the card catalogues.

It took him five minutes to realise that he had only a vague clue what he was looking for. He swore under his breath and wracked his tobacco-soaked brain, attempting to remember what had been on the tiny card next to the sphere-ical shape of the amulet.

"D..."

It had been D-something. Deede? Darla? Daorna? Daoine? No! "Duende," he breathed, then flipped through to the Ds.


--

Jemmie had wandered the streets all day, occasionally picking a pocket, then dumping the wallet in the gutter. The day passed into evening and then into night. With a start, Jemmie decided to go dancing.

It wasn't that he could normally get into a club. Not unless he was with a group, then he'd sort of get ignored. But he felt confident for some reason. As if the odd events of the day were buoying him along. Besides, ripped clothing might be back in.

The doorman barely gave him a glance. People danced on the floor, some groping each other. Others merely dancing to dance. Gorgeous women wandered here and there. Some even giving him a quick glance. It was enough to make him straighten and look cool.

Or so he thought.

She wasn't out of the way gorgeous. But there was something about her that drew him. He stepped towards her, and her flickering glance dismissed him as if he were a flea.

The blonde hair suddenly looked less lovely. Less strokable. Jemmie stared after her and growled softly. Unaware, he was gripping the amulet through his shirt. His hand wrapped around it tightly. It throbbed in time with his heart beat as he turned and stalked from the club.

In the doorway, he paused and squeezed the amulet through his shirt. It would be such a simple thing. A test, really....

Glancing furtively at the bouncer, he turned so his hands weren't visible, and then fished the small pen knife from his pocket. With care he slid the edge along his palm, causing a shallow cut, then wrapped the hand around the pendant.

It pulsed, glowing softly. And Jemmie was suddenly aware of a howling sound.

--

The beat pounded through the club, hot and insistent. People danced, ignoring the laws of personal space, pressed body to body, hands straying as they grooved.

#The first time we made love I wasn't sober
And you told me you loved me over and over
over..over..over...#

The techno beat in the remix slammed through the club again, followed by the repetition of 'over' until it seemed it would never end.

When it did, the song melded into another top forty hit turned into dance mix.

#Deny me if you think you can
but I'll always--always get my man#

Pete sipped his pint and tried not to grimace. Why he'd ended up here, he had no idea. But after a fruitless day of searching for the amulet and information about it, he was at his wits' end. And thirsty. A nice drunk would be good.

A blonde with assets that were luxurious and nicely on display walked past him, and he pondered the idea of following her for a nice hot shag. A moment later he decided he'd better not. With his luck, she'd shove a fist in his face, knee his balls and leave him crying on the floor.

He drifted into recollections of the little brown-haired wench in Germany, then and so passed through several pints before the scream rang out.

It jerked him from a pleasant haze and sent him stumbling through the club towards the source. A young woman--the blonde, in fact--was writhing on the ground as blisters scattered across her body. Her hands were frozen in claws, and sitting neatly crossed on the floor, the stumps oozing blood.

"Everyone get back! NOW!" He roared, glaring the onlookers away from the woman. He knelt next to her and tried to catch her arm as she arched up, screaming. "Calm, ma'am, calm--"

"Oh, Gooood," she moaned, "Oh--" The scream rose into higher octaves, nearly deafening him as he tried to hold her, tried to--

With a sickening sound, her arms slipped out of their sockets and he watched in horror as they crawled across the floor to cross themselves neatly next to her hands.

"I've called the hospital. They're sending a lorry."

Pete stared up at the older woman who was watching him, pain in her eyes, "Lovely. I--"

The woman screamed again, her back arching almost in two. Blood spurted outwards as her mouth and jaw disappeared into a bloody pulp. Her legs suffered a similar fate, leaving her writhing in pain as she caused herself more pain.

And that was when Pete heard it. A dim howling, as if a thousand angry souls were flying around the room, screaming at the tops of their lungs. The sound was muted because of the club music and people shrieking in panic. But for a moment, Pete felt as if they were saying something, speaking... And then the moment was gone as the woman slumped, her heart bursting softly from her chest.

It beat for several moments, then disappeared.

The club suddenly dropped into silence as someone turned the music off.

A stunned silence.

Pete gently set the woman's body down, fighting his rising gorge as he turned blindly away, "Call a pathologist, and the police," he choked out, then fled blindly for the restroom.

--

Outside the club, Jemmie ran, feeling sick and horrible. He had... He had... It was all her fault, wasn't it? After all, SHE had rejected him. She deserved what she got.

Blood thundered in his ears, echoed by the dimming of the howl that came from his necklace. The pendant tapped his chest, warm and pulsing softly.

Her fault. Right. He nodded and slowed as he came to a stoplight. Her fault. Not his. After all, he hadn't known the blood would do that. Had he. No. Not at all.

Not at all.

--

Giles yawned and pulled his glasses off to rub his eyes. The day had been long. Once Shaw had gone he'd gone looking through the books in his office. Searching for any information on "Duende."

There had been none.

Of course, if it were a real arcane symbol, it would be in his books at home. Hopefully. Meanwhile, he'd been doing the paperwork that had stacked up with his inattention. With a groan he shoved the papers into a stack. The rest could wait until morning. When he was awake enough to be able to spell his own name properly.

The sound of a door opening far off caused him to blink. It closed and he stood, wondering if it had been his imagination. A glance at the clock confirmed he should be the only one left in the building. Except for the security guards. A frown crossed his face. This was like the night of the robbery.

As if that thought had conjured him, one of the men from the robbery sauntered into his doorway. Giles grabbed the letter opener and stood.

"Can I help you?"

The man drew on the cigarette clamped between his lips. "Possibly."

"Wonderful. Lovely." Giles walked round his desk to face the man. "I take it you're--"

The man held up something black and shiny. "That's far enough."

"Far enough? Bloody bastard, you held a gun on me the last time and look what happened."

A snort answered him, then the man stepped further into the room, "Yeah, but I'm not close enough for you to knock it from my hands." He finished the cigarette and dropped it, grounding it under his heel. "Look... Y're the curator, right?"

"No, I just play one on telly."

"Right, then. I need all the information you have on a certain magical amulet that was recently stolen."

Giles snorted. "So you can steal it again? What'd you do, go and lose it?"

Silence was his answer, and he laughed. "You did, didn't you. You stupid sod. You stole a valuable artefact, then proceeded to lose it. Congratulations."

"I didn't lose it, it was stolen."

"Yes, by a ragamuffin kid, I'd bet."

"Look, old fuckhead, I--" The man paused and continued, through gritted teeth, "I need your help. Someone's learnt how to use the thing and it's killing people."

"How do you know?"

"I don't. I just have this feeling--that when strange supernatural deaths start occuring the day I lose an amulet that is probably wildly evil..." The man shifted, his free hand clenching at air.

"Bloody hell."

"Fuckin' right."

Giles waved a hand, "And you need me to help you.

"Yes." The man replied grudgingly.

"Who are you?"

The dark-haired man lit another cigarette and shrugged, "None of your business."

"No name, no help."

"...Pete."

"Fine, Pete." Giles reached over to the coatrack and grabbed his coat. "Let's go."

"Where?"

"My flat."

"Why?"

"All of my magic reference books are there, of course."

"Oh... cig?"

"No thanks. Gave them up years ago. Tar your lungs, y'know?"

"Yeah, yeah." Pete muttered. "You sound like bloody Scicluna."

"Thanks. I'm sure."

--

"This is yer flat?"

Giles ignored the derogatory tone of voice and tossed his keys on the coffee table. "Look, Wisdom--now there's a fallacy--shut up."

The other man opened his mouth, then shrugged and popped a cigarette into it. He lit the end with a small gold lighter, then leaned against the wall and watched as Rupert began pulling volumes of antique books off the shelves.

It wasn't a bad looking flat, as apartments go, it was actually rather nice. A small couch sort of slumped against one wall, opposite it (and covering one of the other walls) were myriad bookshelves, packed with cracked leather and gold leaf. The fourth wall opened into a kitchenette with a small bath off of it. Pete guessed that the couch pulled out into a bed. A small desk occupied a corner, also piled with books.

Giles looked up at him as he tapped the fag on a shelf, "Don't do that."

Two fingers popped out of Wisdom's left hand in a gesture remeniscent of late night pissups and early morning hangovers. Giles replied by throwing a book at him. "Look through that. You should be able to read it."

"Wot--never mind." He knew what to look for. The same thing he'd been unable to find earlier in the day. A grimace crossed his face. More dusty books to page through.

--

Detective Seargent Susan Taylor was still a rookie. Sort of. She'd done her time on a beat, and gone through school. And now it was time to take that next important step and crack some good cases. Others had done it before her, so it wasn't quite as hard. Jane Tennison had been the first, and she'd been a real ball-buster. Most of Susan's classmates had looked up to the blonde SI, wishing they could be her.

Susan respected her, but didn't really care to find herself dallying with anyone that was detrimental to her health.

To that end, she'd tried to get assigned to an older man who wouldn't try to get in her pants. On one score, she'd succeeded. DS Ross Tanner didn't want to get into her pants. Sadly, he wasn't that much older than her.

Brash and intelligent, the man was almost neurotic in some ways. She found it oddly attractive, but irritating. He was dark-haired and blue-eyed, with fairly nice looks. At least, that's what the secretary in the Commander's office thought. Isabel was all blonde and blue-eyed fluff, happiest when she was fluttering her eyes at the gorgeous young men who came to see her employer. Susan was surprised to see her, though. Especially since it wasn't much after three in the morning. But, then, this whole business of being called to the Commander's office when she had *just* gotten to sleep was rather odd. Never mind the fact that the alcohol was finally turning to hangover.

Commander Adrian Wright was giving them both an odd look while he fished out a paper from under one stack. His office was one of those that should have belonged to a university professor--papers dotted every surface, fighting the old coffee marks for dominance while the fresh pot was slowly drained every day.

The Commander himself would be the first to admit he didn't appear all that organised. But the mind behind the slightly confused exterior made steel traps look soft.

"Sir?"

"You're looking very tired, Taylor. Are you certain you're up for this?"

"Yes sir. I'm perfectly all right." Lying through her teeth, really. The room was fine except for that vague greenish cast. It suited her right for taking a night out with her old school friends before having to show up at work the next day. It was even more stupid to do it before being called out of bed way too early in the morning.

"I called you both here to inform you you're to be assigned to a new taskforce." He held out sheets of paper to them, "It's to look into paranormal happenings in London and the country itself."

"Sort of like UNIT, then," Tanner noted.

"Except it's real, yes."

"And we don't answer to the UN?" Taylor asked, eyebrow raised.

"No, you don't. You do answer to me, and only me." He leaned back in his chair, and sighed. "The higher-ups don't really see the point in one of these. We know mutants exist, so they must be the cause of all the evil deeds that occur. And, of course, there's always that new W.H.O. outfit."

"Why us, and not someone who's into the supernatural?"

"Good question, Tanner. I chose you both because you're young and eager, and less likely to assume it's a mundane matter. At least, I hope you're both open-minded."

Taylor nodded, then regretted it as her stomach swam slightly. "Will we have anyone to work with us on the paranormal side?"

"Not as yet, but we're looking for someone qualified still."

"Right." Tanner looked at the sheet of paper, "Anything else?"

"Yes. There's a crime scene you both need to see. The address is on the sheet of paper you were given." The Commander began fiddling with another piece of paper on his desk, "That is all. Good luck."

--

"Why am I helping you again?"

"Because there's this amulet that's killing people."

"Oh, yes. And what are you planning to do with it, once we've found and neutralised it?"

"Well..."

Giles yanked his glasses off and glared at Wisdom. "You're going to still turn it over to your employers, aren't you."

"I have to."

"You do not." With a snort, Giles tossed his glasses onto the end table. "No more help."

"What? But without you, I--" Pete narrowed his eyes. "Yer doing this because I'm not destroying it."

"No destruction of a dangerous artefact, no help."

"Oh, come on, man." Pete looked disgusted. "At least it'll be contained."

"That amulet should be destroyed."

"It's..."

Giles stood and began pacing, "They'll abuse it, use the power for evil."

"You sound so righteous," Pete replied sarcastically.

"I want it destroyed."

"Can't do that."

The pacing man paused and looked at Pete. "If I don't destroy it, I will turn a great evil loose on the world."

"Don't be portentious."

"Pedantic?" With that, he began pacing again. "I will only help you if you'll destroy that thing."

--

Jemmie scuttled into another alley, panting. The woman, she was... She was... And he had. His mind shied away from it, in the early morning light. She didn't matter. He was alive. And safe. He was safe.

He looked around himself, it was one of his old haunts. Where he used to hide from the peelers. He could remember hiding behind the stack of mouldy newspapers in the corner. Sometimes he'd even burrow into them, frantic to not be found when his uncle was around.

I don't have to hide anymore, he realised. Nothing can touch me, ever again. Nothing can hurt me.

A haze settled over his mind, and he sank to his knees, then curled up over them and leaned against the wall at his back. Bricks dug in, some more than others as ancient and disordered bricks were wont to do.

He'd run all night trying to get away from the screams. In some way he could still hear her. But he could also still see the disdain, the utter disgust she'd had for him. With these turbulent emotions tormenting him he spiralled down into sleep.

--

The club stank. It wasn't just the normal after-hours-booze and cigarettes and too many bodies stink, Taylor decided as they stepped into the darkness produced by half-boarded up and painted windows. A few tiny bulbs produced a mediocre amount of light, mostly obscured by the disco lights (now off) and the slowly moving fans.

An undercurrent of blood ran under all of that, coupled with the sour stench of fear. Something horrible had happened in this unassuming disco.

Of course, much of that feeling came from the police tape cordoning off the area from the general populace. The uniform on the small opening had waved them through, sending them to a Detective Inspector Garth Skinner. He was a tall black man, uniform slightly rumpled. Probably from being in it all night while he watched the club, questioned witnesses, and generally drank entirely too much coffee.

Taylor liked his smile.

"Ah, the Spook Squad has arrived."

"Sir?"

"You are the new Preternatural Department, aren't you?"

"Yes." Taylor replied, blinking.

"I'd hoped so." He yawned, "We've had the body taken for autopsy already--coroner being a little worried it might mould too much if we didn't."

Tanner refrained from commenting as he stared around the small room, trying to get a feel for what had occured. The report had been very vague, mainly the club, the woman's name, and that she was dead. Not terribly helpful, by all accounts.

"Have interviews been conducted?"

Skinner smiled tiredly at Taylor, "We did them last night, they're being transcripted right now for you."

"We'd like the actual tapes." Tanner objected.

"I'll see you get copies."

Nodding, Tanner turned away from the two of them to concentrate on looking the room over again.

Blood was splattered here and there, as if someone had flailed around, sending the tiny drops into the walls and floor. It was concentrated most where the body had lain, now a carefully chalked outline, still steeped in red. The blood had soaked into the floorboards, staining them. It would be a bitch to get out, if it it ever did.

He bent over, studying the position the body had held. The arms were away, crossed over one another. The hands... he wasn't sure, but the hands seemed to be next to the arms, in the same position. The rest of the body seemed to be writhed in pain, twisted out of all semblance of comfort by what had been excruciating pain.

Next to him, Taylor made an odd choking sound, and he looked at her. She seemed even more green around the edges than before, and he was betting on a late-night piss-up. Coupled with the smells of fear and blood, she would probably ruin any evidence if she didn't go elsewhere. "Taylor, go upstairs and see if they've got anything on their security cameras."

"Right." She replied, voice slightly strangled.

After she'd gone, Skinner shot him a look, "I thought the report mentioned there weren't any cameras."

"It did."

"Ah." Skinner nodded towards the bar. "What do you think?"

"Ritual killing of some sort."

"I really need to get you the witness tapes."

"Why?" Tanner leaned against the upraised counter.

"According to witnesses, no one touched her."

"What, she died by magic?"

Skinner shrugged, "We're not ruling out anything, just yet."

"Bunch of superstitious loonies."

The other man snorted, "Look at the photos, then tell me that was done by a human."

"Aliens, then?" Taylor asked lightly, her colour much improved as she approached the bar. "No cameras." The look she gave Tanner was vaguely suspicious, but since she wasn't going to be sick all over the evidence, she was happy.

"Too bad."

Skinner shook his head internally. Rookies. "You two have an office?"

"Do we have an office?" Tanner looked at Taylor.

She blinked, "I...."

--

The argument had worn thin after a while. Both like old dogs, unable to leave their points. It had degenerated to neither of them speaking to the other except to request that the bottle of fine scotch be passed over. Giles had begun looking again, after his sixth shot. Feeling that acting smug and victorious would be a bad idea, Pete went to make coffee.

"I've found it."

Pete looked up from the slowly percolating pot of coffee to see Rupert's haggard face alight, like a child in a candy store. "Yeah?"

"It's a prayer, how sadly simple."

"You're joking." Pete replied sarcastically.

The man shot him a look, then began carefully transferring the printed word to a hastily scrounged sheet of note-paper.

Pete grabbed the first cup of coffee.

A few minutes later, Giles set the book down and looked at him. "I could murder a cup of tea."

"I've got coffee."

"Not quite as good, but it'll do."

Pouring another mugful, Pete brought it to him. "So, now we know how to destroy it--leaving aside whether we will or not--how do we find it?"

"There's a locating spell on the next page."

"Lovely."

"There is, of course, one little problem..."

"And that would be?"

"Well, the locating spell was created to be used in the instance that renegade priests, or the enemy, had taken the Duende. And, therefore, it was created to be used by the followers."

"Followers?"

Giles sipped at his coffee, then set it on a nearby table and began clearing the floor. "Find me some chalk, would you?"

"Followers?" Pete prompted, unmoving.

"The chalk, and I'll explain."

So Pete fetched a piece of chalk. He watched in interest as Giles began chalking a careful circle on his floor. "Er, yes. Followers. People who worship the deity who made the Duende."

"We've got to worship this thing for the spell to work?"

"I suppose you'd probably call them monks, or priests, or... Well, I'm not quite sure... Interestingly, the destructive prayer is more geared towards just anyone using it."

Pete pondered this as Giles finished setting up his magic circle and sat down in it.

"Be silent until I've finished."

"Yes, O Lord and Master." Pete took a sip of his coffee as Giles closed his eyes.

A second later, he reopened them, "Oh, and this spell ought to alert any practising priests to our whereabouts. But don't worry," he continued as Pete wiped coffee off his upper lip and reached for a hankie to blow his nose, "I rather doubt any actually exist anymore."

--

Scicluna impatiently paced her office. Wisdom was out there. Having lost the amulet, he was hiding from her wrath--or looking for it. She didn't put much faith in the latter, mainly because he tended to be a lazy bugger. Except when it came to business. She frowned, startled. When he'd first worked for them, he'd seemed laid-back. Now... Now there was an intensity to him.

Maybe he was looking for the amulet, as a good field-operative would. She smiled. There might be hope for him yet. Still...

The phone rang, and she picked it up, impatiently snapping, "Scicluna."

"Why, Madame Scicluna, such a pleasure to hear your voice, even with the... impatience."

"Minister." She modulated her tone, and sat down quickly, "My apologies. It has... been a trying day."

"You know that my opposite has been attempting to produce an investigations unit within the Yard?"

"I recall."

"He has succeeded."

"Oh?" Her mind raced for a moment, considering the options, "And are they planning to put Black Air, and you, out of business?"

"Not if their first attempt fails. Funding is... rather shaky."

"Good." She scribbled something on a nearby notepad, "Lovely chatting with you, Minister. I'll let you get back to your busy schedule."

"Au revoir, Madame."

With a statisfied smile, she hung up. This could work to her advantage. A little bit of downfall, and certain provisions would pass through Parliament with no opposition.

The phone rang again, dragging her from her contemplations. "Scicluna."

"It is being used, you bitch." Anger and frustration dripped from those words.

She rolled her eyes. Shinobi could be such a melodramatic fool. "My dear Shinobi, you mistake the matter."

"The Hellfire Club could be very...vindictive if you do not hand the amulet over to us."

"As you wish." Scicluna broke the connection before Shaw could laud her with more threats. He didn't mean them, and he wouldn't be able to carry them out. Not if Selene had anything to do with the matter. With a venomous smile, she dialed the Black Queen's residence.

There might just be a way to solve two problems with one stone.

--

They did have an office. It wasn't a very nice one, but it was large enough for the huge stacks of files someone had stored in it years before. Taylor gave a sigh when she saw the amount of dust. With her luck, the dust would cause an allergic reaction, and she'd sneeze for the next week and a half.

An old-fashioned black phone perched on a corner of the desk, while dust-covered pens and papers scattered over the rest of it. She picked up the phone. "Hello? Oh. Good. Listen, this is Taylor and Tanner, we can be reached at 0-5-0-5. Thanks."

Tanner removed some of the boxes from the desk chair, "Do you want this side or that?"

"Uh, closer to the door."

He nodded, "Crime scene photos?"

"Right here. You got the tapes, yes?"

He held up several audio cassettes, then gestured to the rather ancient machine which sat on the desk. "Think it works?"

"Only one way to tell."

--

Sunlight poured down on Pete and Giles as they exited the building. Pete groaned and shaded his sensitive eyes. It was about noon, people bustling around them merrily going their ways. Clouds were hanging on the edge of the horizon, but mainly staying out of the way of the sun.

Giles shrugged off the evil that was the sunlight and headed for the near corner. Pete trailed him, cursing under his breath. It wasn't that Giles wasn't sympathetic. But, hell, Pete had been the one nursing the scotch all night.

"Y're sure this is working right?" Pete demanded as they turned the corner.

Without looking at him, Giles twitched the small wand. "Yes."

He set a grueling pace, and soon they were several minutes from his flat.

--

"Shinobi."

"Selene, my lovely."

"Stuff it."

Shaw blinked, "My dear, I--"

A smile slid across Selene's lips. "Shinobi, sweetie. I've just had a conversation with Scicluna. It was so *very* intriguing." She bent towards him, darkness glittering in her eyes. "The first rule, my dear wannabe, is that we do not threaten our allies. Don't make me practise 50 Ways to Torture With Orange Peel on you."

He gulped. Selene's repertoire of torture would fill the American Library of Congress. "My--"

"I'm not your anything, Shaw." She whirled away from him in a billow of black lace. "If your people have lost the amulet, I will have to send mine to find it."

He shivered. A loss of face like this would cause the Club to re-evaluate his position. That would not sit well with him. His father would never let him live it down. And he hadn't missed Selene's veiled contempt over his current non-status. He might think he could be Black King, but she quite obviously didn't.

To rise so nearly high, and fall, due to someone else's stupidity was not a good excuse. He picked up the phone again, "Get me the Old Woman."

--

"...and she jus' started screamin', like. And it was so horrid. Made you wanna claw out ya eyes or sommat..."

The phone rang. Taylor hit the pause button on the tape while Tanner answered it. They'd been listening to the accounts from the witnesses, trying to make sense of the garbled remembrances of half-drunk people who saw something more horrific than they'd ever wanted to.

Accounts and comments were not making any sort of sense, though. People saw a woman die, in front of their eyes. And they almost all agreed it had happened as if by some sort of magic. At least, those who weren't coherent. The few coherent people hadn't seen anything, although they'd heard the screams. It was if the very sight of her death had snapped the brains of those who'd been nearby. It could have been a mass halucination, except for the body. So, it had to be a murder. With every one of the witnesses an accomplice, watching as someone ripped the woman apart and laid out her body in a ritualistic fashion before vanishing.

The accounts all matched, as well. And Taylor vaguely remembered one professor pointing out that most witnesses saw different things. A blonde woman, a redhead, two men on a bicycle. And it could have just been a small brown-haired boy.

Shaking her head, she looked over the notes she'd taken, trying to decide where the hell to go next. Unless they did believe it was magic. And where did you go then? There hadn't been any course in magic at university. Nothing to cover Magickal Dire Murder From Afar, that was for sure.

"Coffee?"

She glanced at Tanner, and sighed, "I'd love some, thanks."

"Back in a minute, then."

After he'd left, she let herself get caught in a slight momentary crush, then kicked it away. That was a silly idea. And besides, she'd liked Skinner much better. He was more her type. Big and muscley, with a nice smile.

--

Pete had followed Giles as they traversed street after street. Within a few minutes, he began to feel an itching sensation in his shoulder blades. Quick darting glances had shown him no one following them, but he wondered. The curator had been silent since they'd begun, which was fine with Pete. Gave him more time to go through the pack of fags he'd bought the previous day.

The man stopped abruptly, and turned back to him. "We're being followed."

"You noticed."

"I've noticed for a while." Giles seemed more drawn now, as if the spell were taking physical energy. "Until now, it hasn't mattered. However, we're nearly there. So, I--"

"Gentlemen." The voice came from the side, where a man stood.

Pete flicked the butt of his cigarette to the ground and stepped on it. "Yeah?"

The man nodded to Giles, "You've worked a spell of Finding. Nicely done, although a little shaky in the middle."

"Oh, really?" Rupert looked almost incensed. "I thought it was very stable."

The man shook his head. "We can discuss theory later. First, I should introduce myself." He flourished his trenchcoat and bowed. "Maximillian Lytton. Please, call me Lytton."

"Rupert Giles. Why have you been following us?"

"The spell, mainly. You see, I must know why you are searching the Duende out."

"None o' yer business." Pete lit up.

"Ah, but it is." Lytton's eye darkened. "I'm the 'leader' of the local chapter of... well, a group that has ties to the Duende."

"You're a member of the Order?"

"Not exactly." Lytton crossed his arms. "Enough small talk. I need to know your plans for the Duende."

"I'm destroying it."

Pete cursed to himself. Giles was obviously NOT a poker man. You never showed your cards until you had to. This wasn't the time for honesty.

"You've found a way to do so?"

"Yes."

"Good. The Order has been trying to find just such a spell for centuries--almost since the day the Duende was cast."

"Really?" Giles pushed his glasses back up his nose. "How interesting." He studied the other man, distrust running through his mind. The book he had found the spell in had specifically stated that the members of the order had written that spell themselves.

"Are we going to destroy the bloody thing or not?" Pete pointed to himself, "I, for one, need to get back to thinking up an excuse for having lost it."

Giles nodded and turned the way he'd been heading before the interruption. "It should be very close."

--

When Tanner returned, Taylor was still studying her notes. But she had a worried frown on her forehead.

"Don't tell me Skinner turned you down for Friday night."

"Wha--Oh." She blushed, then cursed. "Bastard. No. I was wondering. The ministry is going to decide on this paranormal unit only if we solve this case, right?"

"Yeah." He nodded, a grim smile lighting his features. "You've reached the same conclusion I have."

"We're supposed to fail."

"Another stupid political power play."

She snorted, "Lovely. And our careers?"

"Barely started, we'll get pats on the head, then be fine."

"You think?" She seemed hopeful.

It was really kind of naive, he thought. "Of course. No doubt about it." He smiled. After all, knew all about insurance.

"Right. So. We still need to try to solve it, don't we?"

"That's the spirit."

--

He awoke with a start, heart in his throat and a nasty taste in his mouth. As if something had crawled in and died. Died. A flash of the night before took him back, and he saw again the blood and the pain, and began to shake. With jerky movements, he stood and looked around himself.

Places. He had to go places, didn't he? Pockets to pick for his day's take, and maybe even some food.

His stomach cramped in anger against that thought, the sick memory swirling through it as it had stalked through his dreams.

So. Not food. Instead, he'd run away. Away from London, out to the country. He'd always wanted to go to the country, hadn't he?

Anywhere had to better than this place.

"Goin' somewheres, Jemmie me lad?"

The voice pulled him out of his reverie and he whirled to face the speaker. She stood there, eyes calmly studying him while her lips tried to smile nicely at him. It didn't work on him, though, he'd seen her dark side before. Too many times. "Ella Mae." He said, trying for normality. But his terror came through, cracking his voice.

She sighed, "What's the matter, lad? Don't you trust me?"

"NO. Ma'am." He gulped and backed away, wondering if it was already too late for him, if he'd have to kill again. And again and again.

"Kids these days. No respect for their elders." She studied him with distaste, "You hand that amulet over to me, child, and I'll see you never want for anythin'."

"A-amulet?" He tried for surprise and innocence.

She didn't buy it. Too canny was miss Ella Mae. "I know you got it, boy. I've been followin' yer career as the Ripper. First yer uncle and cousin, and now some floozy."

"I didn't kill them!"

"Nah, 'course ya din't, lad. Now, hand that over to me, and you won't not kill no more, ok?"

He stared at her, the fear suddenly gone, panic finally run away with everything. "Y're lyin'." He said softly, a calm certainty touching him. Where it nestled against his heart, the amulet let out a soft throb. "You just want it to kill people with."

"What gave you that idea?"

"It likes killing." He shivered and pulled the amulet from under his shirt, staring at it in horrified fascination.

"Does it now?" She drifted closer, curiosity and greed in her eyes.

"Yes. The blood, you see, and the wind. And the pain." Jemmie fought the compulsion to scratch his hand across the surface of something, to watch the blood flow.

"Jemmie, lad, give the amulet to me."

"No."

"Don't make this hard, boy."

"Hard?" Jemmie tried to scream, but giggled instead. "'S never hard." He looked down at his chest, pulling back the shirt fabric, amulet in the other hand. "Y'just have to, bleed a little."

"Bleed?" Alarm bells went off in the old woman's head, and she lurched forward, batting at the amulet.

It was as if she was in slow motion, though. His hand brought it down to his chest, the sharpened edge scratching and slicing a long line of blood across his heart. A sting ran through him then was ignored as he drew it back, smearing the scarlet liquid around. Heat poured into the air around him. And wind.

And, soon, screams.

--

"Oh my god."

Pete stared at Lytton as they turned the corner, raising an eyebrow at the sudden greyness of the man's face. "Wot?"

"It has begun."

"What has?"

"The amulet has been activated again."

Having seen the amulet's work, Pete could now understand the other man's palor. "Shit."

"And we're supposed to do what?" Giles enquired, his own face rather pale.

"Pray."

"That--" With no other warning than a small gulp, the curator folded, his body hitting the flagstones of the walkway with an awkward plopping sound.

Pete stared at him for a moment, then looked at Lytton, "What happened?"

"Magical backlash." The priest looked down at Giles, worried. "He must have touched it too close--the Finding rebounded on mystical shields..."

"Or something."

"Yes." He shot Pete a wary glance. "You don't want it destroyed, do you."

It wasn't a question, so he didn't answer it, content to lean over and arrange the unconscious man's limbs more comfortably.

"It was an evil thing when it was created. Every use makes it more so."

"And?"

"Power such as it contains should never be used."

"It was made to be used, right?"

Lytton sighed and knelt down next to Giles, checking that he was breathing well. "It was. But it was a mistake. A mistake the brethren have paid for for centuries."

"Brethren." Pete studied him, "You're not a member of their cult, are you."

"I--no. You could say we were Its enemies a long time ago. But the result of our war has long since degenerated into a few nasty looks, occasional long silences at crosswalks. And the endless search for the Duende."

"You wanted to find it first."

"We knew if we could study it, we could destroy it." Lytton seemed to shrink into himself, "But it was not to be." He looked up at Pete, "I am the last of the Brethren, sworn to destroy the Duende with my very being."

"Sounds great." Pete lit another cigarette. "Fancy a smoke?"

--

Hours had passed, lunch had been consumed. Taylor fought against a yawn, and picked up the last witness statement. There was, as before, nothing that stood out. Nothing that caught the eye and said, "HERE! HERE IS THE KILLER!"

Tanner had gone out a few hours before. To case the scene, and investigate the rumour that another of the gruesome murders had occured. Taylor was just as glad not to see another body like that.

The phone rang, startling her. She swore at herself, then answered. "Taylor."

"Hey."

"Who is this?"

A chuckle echoed up, "My apologies, ma'am. It's D.I. Skinner. You wouldn't be interested in dinner tonight, would you?"

"I--" She made a quick decision, "Yes. We can discuss the case."

"Sounds fun."

He was amused. "What time shall I pick you up?" She asked, happy to turn the tables.

"Six, please." He didn't sound surprised at all. "I'll be getting off my shift then."

She smiled, "I'll be there."

"Lovely."

As she hung up, she realised he meant it, too.

With slightly renewed vigour, she began pouring over the accounts once more, searching for that one single thread to unravel the whole.

--

Patting one last time to make sure the wig was firmly in place, Scicluna also checked her lips. She was perfect, really, but any good disguise needed second and third checks. The slim black Ministry car rolled to a stop then.

She paused as she exited. A reporter was loitering at the steps of the Ministry. He was a youngish man, one of the eager types who probably thought puppies were cute and kittens should always be saved from drowning. With a slight smirk, she fixed a soft smile to her lips and strode forwards, attache case swinging smartly at her side.

He spotted her a second later, and bounced towards her happily, "Ma'am?"

"Yes?" She gave him a calm look.

"I'm here to learn about the new paranormal investigations division." He waited, like it was a question. She had to nod to get him to continue, "What have you heard about it?"

"Well," She laid a hand on his arm and looked slightly contrite, "And this is *all* off the record--"

"Of course." He breathed, news-nose sniffing out the scent of something that might get him off the crappy beat and into a cushy editorial desk job.

"But. The rumours I've heard are that the squad will be disbanded before it even starts."

"Re-ally?" A slight note of sadness seemed to enter his voice.

"Well, after all, there's other divisions to deal with this sort of thing."

"Like W.H.O." He suggested.

She shuddered. Those incompetent sympathetic fools, "Yes. Like Stuart and his band."

"'Stuart and his band.'" He smiled, "Can I quote you on that?"

"No, I'm afraid not. You see, this is all a matter for speculation, and I wouldn't want to do *any*thing to jeopardise the chances of this new division before it even begins."

"Oh." He looked sad. That desk job was walking away, his new wife and four kids with it.

"But, I'm sure you can speak to the head of the paranormal division, Commander Wright, about it."

"Commander Wright? In charge?"

"The very man."

He almost clapped. She would have, too. "Wow! Thanks, ma'am."

"You're welcome." She turned back to the building, "Now, if you'll excuse me..."

"Certainly."

Scicluna was at the doorway when he suddenly called out again, "Oh! Ma'am! I never got your name!"

Pulling the door open, she smiled back over her shoulder, "I'm afraid I must remain anonymous."

"But--!"

"Call me the Brunette, then."

"The Brunette." He rolled the name around, then grinned, "Right. Thanks!"

"My pleasure."

--

Jemmie was running again. And this time, more than his memories were chasing him. He hadn't noticed the men in robes until after Ella Mae had screamed her last. Before then, they'd just sort of been lurking. But then they appeared, happy. Joyous, their voices raised in song.

And so he'd run, the amulet still clutched in one fist, the slight pain from the gash on chest a counterpoint to the pounding of his heart and the fear that consumed his mind.

"Child! You must halt! You must give it unto us!"

He didn't answer the insane cry, merely ducked into another alley, intent on losing them in the network of passageways.

A foot got in his way, and he tumbled over, hitting the ground rather painfully, and losing his grip on the amulet. The chain broke, and it rolled away, coming to rest against the wall.

Pete studied the amulet, noticing that it had changed colour since he had last seen it. A deep red hue suffused its surface, replacing the dingey grey it had once seemed. He started to reach for it.

"No!" Lytton caught his hand, "It is unclean now. It has woken. Only those who wish its destruction may hold it."

"Wot?"

"You must not destroy it!" A voice announced, the tones Ringing in the alleyway.

Pete sighed and lit a cigarette, sure that this next bit of pontificating would be as boring as the last. The priest-types began swarming towards him and Lytton, eyes gazing rapturously at It. The kid had curled in ball, away from everything.

"It must be destroyed." Lytton informed them.

"We shall help contain it." The leader-type informed him righeously. "But it can never be destroyed. It was made for His will. And His will is rising up again!"

"But we--"

A thud occured. Pete blinked at Giles, who was inspecting the man who now lay at his feet. Something in his stance reminded him of... something. It would come to him. Giles smiled, "I was getting bored waiting for them to stop prosing on." He looked at Lytton, "I don't suppose we could just perform the ritual here."

"I..."

"Seems at a loss fer words, Rupes."

"Don't call me that. Ever."

"Right you are... Ripper."

Giles blinked at him, "How did you..?"

"Guessed." Pete offered him the nearly-finished cigarette. "Care for this? We can fit you out a leather coat later."

"No. Thanks."

"AHEM."

The three of them glanced at the other priests. The man who was apparently now their leader was glaring. "You must give us the amulet."

"I don't think so." Pete said, "Especially since we've gone to all this trouble just to destroy it."

The man's mouth gaped. "Destroy? The Duende??? HEATHENS!"

--

Taylor was on time to pick Skinner up. She believed in promptness, and, besides, this way it wouldn't look like a date. There were certain rules about this sort of thing after all. Not that anyone followed them, but it helped. For appearances. Tanner had snickered.

"Glad you could make it." Skinner said as he met her in the front hall of his precinct.

"Yes." She waited until they'd gotten in her car before turning to him. "Look, I don't want you to think I'm doing this just to get a promotion."

"I don't." He grinned, teeth white. "I thought you were cute. It has nothing to do with either of our jobs."

"We keep our lives out of our jobs, then." She let out a relieved sigh. "Good. Where would you like to go?"

--

A lot of fighting had occured. This was not to say that it had been a bad thing, but Pete was beginning to note that it was not only getting on towards evening, it was actually dark out. And the fighting had mainly been old men yelling at each other.

He was almost out of fags, too. Could get irritating real soon.

Apparently, a radical sect of the Priest-types wanted to actually destroy the Duende. This had come as rather a shock to the more traditional types, who held that nothing new under the sun was good. Or something like that. So they had gone from full-blown, "Give us the Duende!" to, "Well, maybe that's a good idea.... NO! It's not!"

It hadn't been a very productive evening.

Pete nudged Giles, "What d'you need for the spell?"

"A simple circle will do. It's apparently just an incantation-like prayer, really. I'm surprised they never used it before." He glanced at the circle of chattering men. "On the other hand..."

"Any special thing for the circle?"

"Chalk."

Pete glanced around until he spotted the kid, still huddled in a ball against the wall. He walked over to him and hunkered down. "Hey."

Blue peered at him, the red rims and blotchy cheeks that followed would have broken anyone's heart. If they hadn't been Wisdom. "Wot?"

"You got any chalk on you?"

The kid seemed to consider, then he shook his head. "Know where I can get some."

"Quick?"

"Yeah."

"Off you go, then."

The kid stood shakily, then paused, "How much?"

"Fiver."

A smile flashed across his features. "Back in a jiff, sir."

--

Scicluna read her copy of the evening paper with smug amusement. The little newspaper lad had been a wonderful find. She really should look into using his services another time.

It almost made up for Wisdom still being late with his delivery.

At least Selene was prepared to overlook this little difficulty. For now.

If Scicluna had been where Selene was, she might have been slightly less sanguine. Not by much, though.

A chair impacted against the wall, the force that hurled it more that of a child having a temper tantrum than a grown man attempting to join the world of his superiors. "It's not here!"

"No, it isn't." Amused condescension leaked from Selene's voice as Shinobi whirled to glare at her. "And, darling, this display. It's so..." She yawned. "Boring. I thought you had someone as a back up?"

"She--Yes. I do. They're just. Late." Shinobi sniffed, temper forgotten for the moment. "Old crone is probably taking her time, stopping for bags of chips on the way."

"Crisps."

"Chips." He snapped, stubbornly.

"Mhm." She pulled her nailfile out and began filing away carefully at certain edges. "So, if this plan fails, what next?"

"I have another." He announced confidently.

"Really." Her eyes bored into his.

He wilted. "No. Ella was my last resort. The hole card."

"Ah." She smiled, replacing the nailfile. "Dear Shinobi, you've been such wonderful company. However, I'm afraid it's time to retrain you a little. You're so... sloppy, on the details."

"Retrain?" He asked, voice squeaking slightly.

"Yes. I thought we'd start with the rack, and work our way up."

"But--"

Selene wrapped a negligent hand around his throat, stroking it gently, "Now, I don't think struggling is a good way to begin, do you?"

"No." he said softly.

"Good boy." She smiled.

--

The conversation had been light and delightful, tensions easing and slipping away. The food had been just as good, and as the night closed in, Susan found herself relaxing enough to lean across the table in mid-sentence and gently kiss him.

He chuckled, and caught her chin, kissing back, mouth warm against hers. He tasted like curry and lime, and a bit of beer. There was a hint of him underneath it all.

But the kiss was cut short as their waitress coughed softly.

"Yes?"

"Sorry, ma'am, but there's another gentlemen here to see you."

Taylor frowned, "I don't--Oh." Tanner stood near the doorway, trying to blend in with dinner crowd but failing miserably. She smiled brightly at Skinner and stood, "Don't go anywhere."

"Not a chance."

She reached Tanner, tension returning to her shoulders as she spotted the frown on his lips. "What is it?"

"This is the tenth restaurant I've tried so far."

"And?"

"We're wanted in the Commander's office."

"Now?" She shot a glance back at Skinner.

"Now."

He started to leave. She sighed, "I'll be right there."

A nod. "I'll be in the car."

Skinner was luckily a patient man. He could wait to finish their date, even if she couldn't promise it would be then. Taylor retrieved her jacket on her way out. Once the car was moving, she glanced at Tanner. "What?"

"Have you seen the evening edition?"

"No. Why?"

He reached into the back and handed her the stack of newspaper. "It's not very good."

"'Another grisly murder on the lower east side', Oh my. Ours?"

"Read on."

She did, silently, occasionally cursing, sometimes making a concerted effort to argue with the printed word. Sadly, black ink on white paper is inevitable and over with.

--

Jemmie had returned with the chalk, and received his reward. He'd had enough for several decent meals. Maybe even hot dinner all week, if he stretched it carefully. Or, he could blow it all on a new suit of clothes, maybe get out of his shabby shirts and trousers.

His head full of these marvels, he really failed to notice the rather large fracas that was going on around him.

In the center of it, Giles quickly drew a circle around himself and Pete. Once certain it was as perfect as it could get, he set the Duende in the middle, then stood over it, paper in hand. He raised it up, paused, and handed it to Pete. "Just a minute. Idiot glasses. What a time for them to fog." He fumbled out the edge of his shirt and quickly cleaned the lenses. "There. Now, where was I. Ah." And he began.

Halfway through, with Pete occasionally deflecting a staggering priest back into the melee, a misthrown brick caught the curator on the forehead. And down he went, spell unfinished.

--

"Sir?"

"You're.... They've beaten you to it."

Taylor stared at Wright, puzzled, "Who, sir?"

"Not W.H.O. Bloody Black Air. That blonde bitch and her slimy little people found the killer this evening and delivered him to the Ministry hours ago." Slamming a fist onto the desk, Wright glared at them through slightly bloodshot eyes. "While the two of you were playing footsie, we lost our one chance to have a decent preternatural investigation squad of our own."

"We--"

"I don't care what you were doing. You should have gotten there first."

"But there wasn't any evidence!" Taylor protested, "Nothing. The witnesses never registered anything except the murder itself."

"What Taylor is trying to say, sir, is that there were no leads." A sardonic grin touched Tanner's face, "Maybe Black Air staged this whole thing, eh sir?"

"Don't even think that way, Tanner. Don't joke about it, either." With a quick shiver, Wright glanced at the closed door. "I'm afraid we've lost this round."

--

"Well. Fuck."

Giles was out cold, the piece of paper with the spell on it still in his hand. It was irritating, but Pete finally had his chance. He could swipe the amulet, and his job was assured.

Staring around himself at the warring priests, he sighed. This wasn't the sort of thing he was supposed to do have to do. It really wasn't.

Never leave things unfinished. His papa had always told him that. Before he went mad.

"Bloody. Hell." Bending over, Pete picked up the paper. He could see where Giles had stopped. Just a few more words... He read them. Aloud.

His voice echoed in a sudden silence, and Pete started to worry. He wasn't one of the idiot cultists after all. He didn't believe-- something touched him. A feeling of wordless thanks, a sense of well-being.

Pete smiled, relaxed.

Everything exploded.

--

It had been, once.

Power had surrounded it for untold centuries. Many worshipped it, artefacts were built to its power and greatness.

And then the New Gods arrived.

And the world went dark for it.

For a long time, it languished in a dark and silent place. And then light came, slowly at first, but building as more people joined a tiny non-descript cult.

For centuries, very few had been members. Most people preferring the fire and brimstone of other gods.

And then the amulet came. And it was happier. All was good, all was wonderful. And the world changed again.

Science and wisdom were lost to destruction and death. Magic buried under the crunch of mechanical wheels.

And it waited for release, for the final end. Drifting in an endless span of black, lost to sight and sound and memory.

The end finally came.

--

"Wisdom..."

"Yeah?" His black hair full of ash and runnels decorating his face with smudged lines, Pete looked like death.

Giles helped him to his feet then staggered slightly with exhaustion. "I think I'm going to have to consider you a friend."

"Don't. My friends tend to get dead."

Using his free hand, Giles pushed his cracked glasses back up. "I can take care of myself." For a moment, Ripper flashed those brown eyes to a dark obsidian.

Pete nodded slowly. "Yeah. Y'can."

"I think a drink is in order."

"Y're buyin'."

"First round, yes. Second's yours."

--

"You're both bloody idiots. I should bust you back down to scrubbing floors at your schools."

"But--"

Wright cut Taylor off, "I don't want excuses. You did horribly, the Ministry has fallen out of favour. And they're beginning to ask for *my* head."

She looked down at the floor. "Yes, sir."

"Good. I expect the two of you to clean out your desks, and prepare for new assignments."

"Sir."

He waved them towards the door, "You're dismissed."

Taylor salvaged her pride and dignity, and walked slowly away and out the door, determined not to scream the curses in her head, or the explitives on her tongue.

After all, it had been their fault. Hadn't it?

Tanner waited until Taylor had left, then he turned to Wright. "Sir."

"Yes? I thought I'd dismissed you."

"You did." Tanner walked over and closed the door, then came back and dropped into his vacated chair. "But I have a slight point to make."

"One that Taylor couldn't hear?" Wright asked, eyebrow raised.

"Rather. She's a little cleaner than us, sir."

"Oh?"

"You're not going to bust us back down, sir."

"I'm not?" The other eyebrow went up.

"No, sir." Tanner looked at his hands, picking at one cuticle. "See, sir, we have all of the files that you gave us. And... they could fall into so many hands. Sir."

Silence came from the man behind the desk, then he chuckled, "You're an intelligent man, Tanner."

"Yes, sir."

"The slate is cleaned. For both of you."

"Very good. Sir." Tanner stood, and smiled slightly. Then turned away.

Wright watched him, wondering if this sword of damocles would always hang over his head.

"Oh. One other thing, sir."

"Yes?"

"My son's first birthday is this Friday. I'd like it off."

"Is that the end?" The unspoken question echoed under it, 'Will you demand more of me?'

"Yes, sir. That's it."

--

Epilogue

The morning edition of the Times carried the story. A few details were changed. After all, Scicluna wasn't ready for Black Air to become public knowledge yet. The Wierd Happenings Organisation was lauded for its quick thinking and detective work. A very puzzled Alistair Stuart had given a confusing statement about quantam mechanics and magic.

No mention was made of ancient cults, or destructive amulets. Instead, it was called a hoax. Those who didn't believe that were ridiculed.

For those who'd worked the case, alcohol helped the memories to slip away.

Skinner and Taylor kept their next date, but the relationship didn't last, sadly. Work pulled at both, and there were too many obstacles working against them. Tanner went on to great things. So, incidentally, did Taylor. Both those stories belong elsewhere.

A small obituary appeared several days later, lamenting the death of one Ella Mae. Those who had known her avoided her funeral. She was cremated at State expense. Rumour had it the expense came from *very* high up.

Two months later, the Ministry received the resignation of Commander Adrian Wright. He settled out in the country, with his newly adopted son, Jemmie.

Fate, it would seem, likes a bit of a laugh. The lad had been arrested for theft, Wisdom's fiver have been rather closer to a 50 pound note. Wisdom wasn't known for his charity, but he was, occasionally, a soft touch. Wright had heard the boy's story, and decided to retire. Better to leave it all behind.

Rupert Giles settled quietly back into the curator-ship of his museum. Puttering around, annoying his more electronic-minded colleagues, and gaining a rather mysterious grant from a rather old and genteel club.

The matter of the theft of an unknown artefact was never solved, since there was no proof there *had* been such a thing, and, well, it was most likely teenage hi-jinks. Giles never pushed, either.

Scicluna and Wisdom met in the neutral ground--the Crown, a rather Intel-oriented pub--and discussed the terms of his re-employment. After all, it hadn't been all his fault. And Scicluna really couldn't lose her best agent. Their arguments continued until even the pick-up poker game had settled its bets for the night.

In the end, it was settled.

Wisdom occasionally wanders by the museum. Looking for a bit of class, he tells anyone at Black Air who asks. And Giles has been introduced round the Crown. They rather like him, tweed and all.

Maybe it's the fact that he's such a cardsharp. Those monthly pickup games have never been the same.

-finis-

End note: For those who, y'know, didn't spot it. Yeah. This was a crossover.

Also, if you've gotten to the end, you probably want to know about the title... Well, Paninaro is this Pet Shop Boys song, "Passion, love, sex, money, violence, religion, injustice, death" it goes. And, that won't fit as a title.

And, well, weasels. Mr. Flibble. They sound so fun.