The force of the blast knocked Matt off his feet and Angela quickly scrambled over to help him up

The Beginning of the End

By Shadow Runner

Shadow_runner4u@hotmail.com

You know the drill… Disney owns them, not me… no money… don't sue… blah, blah, blah….

Part 15 in the series

Well I know it's been a long time coming and now that I have my second wind, I'm back at it.

Hope you like and happy reading. J

***** ***** *****

Detective Matt Bluestone was doing his best to keep up with Bronx but it wasn't easy given the cramped conditions in the hallway. Through his headset, Matt could hear the heavy breathing of the others as they made their way further into the building. Brooklyn followed closely behind with Angela and Broadway while Xanatos brought up the rear.

The building shook again causing dust to rain down into Matt's eyes. He rested a hand on Bronx's hindquarters hoping the dog-beast would understand that he needed him to stop without having to voice the command. Bronx did stop but it was clear from his soft growl that he wasn't happy about it.

"We've stopped…" Brooklyn uttered softly, "What's wrong?"

"Nothing…I hope…" Matt smiled sheepishly, hoping the white-haired gargoyle could see him better then he could. Matt wiped his brow with the sleeve of his jacket and whispered into the transmitter of his headset, "Ok Lex, talk to me…"

Lexington's voice came faintly through everyone's headsets, "Are you OK?"

"Yeah…" Matt responded softly, "But we could use a little help here…"

"OK…" Lexington replied, "Hold your position… we're gonna have to research this…"

Matt nodded to Brooklyn who in turn motioned to the others to stand by. It was not entirely necessary since all of them heard Matt's conversation but Brooklyn felt it was better than saying nothing. Matt for his part, leaned against the wall to collect his thoughts for a moment.

As soon as they heard the muffled explosion, the entire group took flight and landed on the roof of the Hotel Cabal. It took about two seconds for Brooklyn and Broadway to rip the fire door off its hinges and when no alarm sounded, it occurred to Matt that they might have a new set of problems.

Sure he'd been in the building before but if the place was still booby-trapped this rescue attempt would be a complete failure and they might end up needing rescuing too. Xanatos had used the private frequency in his headset to contact Owen Burnett and between the blond-headed man and Lexington, the two of them were able to obtain at least a partial record of the hotel. As luck would have it the Illuminati had renovated the building not long after Goliath's escape, but for some reason they abandoned it. The contractor who completed the work, filed the plans in city hall when it was announced that the building was up for public auction.

As near as Owen and Lexington were able to determine, part of the renovations had included removing the booby traps and Matt to wonder if this had been done in order to get Mace Malone out of the building.

Absently he wondered if the man was found alive.

Matt pushed the thought aside and wiped the sweat from his brow again. He placed his hand over the speaker of his headset and whispered to Xanatos, "If they don't find something soon…"

Xanatos' voice was slightly distorted coming from behind the mask, "We may have to take our chances…"

Matt's response was lost as Broadway's voice sounded through everyone's headset, "Come on Lex…" he muttered under his breath, "I could draw a map faster than this…"

Just as Broadway finished speaking Angela gave him a harp jab to the ribs but apparently Lexington overheard the comment and took great offence to it, "Oh yeah? Well who's gonna read it to you?"

Before the argument could escalate, Brooklyn chastised both his rookery brothers and once again the hallway was quiet but the silence was beginning to get to Matt and he found himself again thinking of his first trip into the Hotel Cabal.

He very nearly died in this building and in fact he would have had it not been for Goliath.

Goliath had saved his life that night and Matt wanted to be able to repay that particular debt.

Lexington's voice cut through the silence, "OK… you should be clear all the way down…"

"Are you sure?" Matt questioned.

"No…" Lexington paused, "But Owen said it's the best we can do under the circumstances…"

"Then that will have to be good enough." Brooklyn interjected as another series shocks vibrated the building. He moved past Matt and crouched down beside Bronx. Taking the dog-beasts head in his talons, he gave him an abrupt rub on the head, "Ok boy, do what you do best… Find Goliath and Elisa…"

Brooklyn turned him loose and the gargoyle dog took off running with the others close behind him.

***** ***** *****

Elisa was off her feet and for the second time in as many days found herself flat on her back. In a split second, Goliath was by her side, brushing dust and debris from his mate while trying to protect her from further injury. "Are you alright Elisa?" he questioned.

"I think so," She replied with uncertainty, "What the hell was that?"

"Something has happened above us…" Goliath looked around the room for any other possible threats. The lights over head flickered intermittently but there appeared to be little danger of the ceiling collapsing down on them. "No doubt Demona's handy work…"

Elisa allowed Goliath to assist her in standing, "We're gonna have to hurry before she has chance to do anything else…"

The pair started back down the corridor but Goliath stopped abruptly and moved back down the hall. He stared into the cell where he had deposited Allen Jenkins moments before. The man moaned softly and opened his eyes but made no effort to stand up. The lavender gargoyle appraised the one time captor then glanced over his shoulder to Elisa, "We cannot leave him here…"

"Why not?" Elisa challenged.

Goliath inclined his head slightly, understanding the hostility she was expressing was not her own, but rather it was a result of her unexpected connection to Demona. "Elisa…" He began slowly.

"I know… I know…" Elisa sighed heavily understanding her mate's concern and knowing it wasn't without merit. If something else were to happen, Jenkins might very well become trapped in the cell and neither of them wanted a death attributed to the Clan. On the other hand, and given a choice, Elisa would have left the man locked in the cell. At least she'd know where to find him later.

Provided there was a later.

She ran her hands through her hair and glanced towards the exit, "The thing is I really don't want him coming with us…"

"Then what do you suggest?" Goliath questioned.

"Here…" Elisa tossed the key to the cell over to the lavender gargoyle and he caught it in mid air.

Goliath slowly inserted it into the lock. Jenkins said nothing but he kept his eyes locked on the gargoyle until he the soft but audible click of the lock disengaging. He started to rise to his feet but stopped when Goliath grumbled softly.

"No… Once we are gone you are free to leave…" Goliath slipped the key into the waistband of his loincloth and followed Elisa out of the room.

Jenkins made no movement but his eyes followed the pair until they were out of his sight. He rose to his feet and walked to the cell door and pressed on the bars until the door swung open. He stepped out into the corridor and considered his next move. He noticed one of the taser poles lying on the ground and walked over to pick it up. It felt warm in his grasp and it gave him a small measure of comfort.

Carefully he moved down the passageway, half expecting the beast to be waiting on him. When no attack came he increased his pace. He rubbed his hand over his thigh and noted he could feel the welt forming where the taser had been used on him earlier. He felt no pain from the encounter and even if he had, it wouldn't have mattered.

Pain was irrelevant to him and it was only a matter of time before one of the others found the beast and the woman in the building. Once that happened everything would be as it should have been all along.

Nothing mattered excepting getting everything prepared for the final ceremony.

And this time, nothing was going to be left to chance and no one was going to stand in their way.

No one.

***** ***** *****

Jon Castaway was jolted awake from his drug-induced sleep by the sound of thunder. For a brief instant he had no idea where he was but a quick survey of the dim room told him he was still safely tucked away inside the Hotel Cabal.

But something was wrong. He'd left explicit instructions for Jenkins to wake him before dark and Jon could feel without having to look that it was well after dark. Outside the door to his 'office' he could hear men speaking in hushed tones, desperately trying to be quiet but failing miserably. Jon rose from his cot and made his way over to the door to see what was going on.

He winced as a twinge of pain shot across his back and shoulders. Absently, he reached back and gently touched his left shoulder. The thick bandage served as a vivid reminder that there was still a debt to repay but the bleeding had stopped and that was a good thing. Despite having lost a great deal of blood earlier, the damage appeared to be finally under control and he ultimately decided to leave the dressing alone. It took nearly three hours to sew up the gashes and it would do no good for him to open the wound now. If he were to do that, it could mean a trip to the hospital.

And that was not an option.

Not when he was this close to exacting vengeance on those who had torn his world apart. For more than a year, the gargoyles very existence served as a constant reminder of a life, not to mention family, lost to him an eternity ago.

No… not lost. Stolen from him.

Images of his family came to him, assaulting him with a fury laced with guilt. In his mind he could see his brother and sister rotting away in a jail they never should have been sent to in the first place.

Robyn was there as a victim of circumstance, but Jason… Jason was there by choice.

The wrong choice in Jon's opinion.

Soon my Brother, he thought to himself, soon I will show you how wrong you were…

He was pulled from his thoughts when the door to his private office opened unexpectedly, "Mr. Castaway? Are you awake?"

"What is it?" Jon demanded.

"I'm sorry to bother you Sir," The young man cautiously entered the room, then paused to glance back out to the hallway before speaking again, "We have a situation out here…"

Jon recognized the man as Troy Green, one of the lower members of the Quarrymen, "What's the problem?" he questioned roughly.

Green looked down at the floor nervously and tugged at the Quarrymen pendant that hung around his neck, "I don't know if I can explain…"

"Well I think you'd better try for your sake…" Jon paused and felt a wave of apprehension at hearing additional voices in the hall. These were not the hushed voices he'd heard earlier; these were the voices of men about to become panicked.

He shoved past the young man when he got no further response. He ignored the throbbing ache that racked his body at the sudden movement. It all but disappeared when he saw two men dragging a third, who was barely conscious and half-dressed down the hall.

The man was alert but unable to walk on his own and Jon identified him as Richard Mendez, the man who was supposed to be pulling security for the confinement room.

A confinement room which was supposed to be holding two gargoyles and one New York City Police detective.

"What the hell is going on here?!" Jon demanded, "What in God's name is this man doing up here?!"

"I'm not sure…" Troy Green immediately stepped up to help the other men, "We found him downstairs trying to crawl back up here. I was just about to send someone down when the lights went out…"

Jon slammed his fist into the wall, causing a crack to appear in the drywall, "Where in the hell is Mr. Jenkins?!"

"I been looking for him for the better part of an hour, Mr. Castaway…" Green's voice was strained under the weight of the semi-conscious man, "I've asked everyone but nobody's seen him since…"

"Fuck!" Jon kicked the doorjamb of his office in frustration causing the entire building to shake. It would have been humorous were it not so disturbing. He cocked his head curiously and considered kicking the wall again just to see if the same thing would happen. He didn't need to try the experiment as the building shook for a second time, this time causing plaster fragments to rain down on them. A split second later the emergency lighting illuminated the hall, causing ghostly shadows to appear across the walls.

"What the…?" Troy questioned.

"Someone cut the power…" Jon replied softly under his breath. The hallway was silent, save for the sounds of men breathing, yet none of them dared speak. Jon clinched his fist in anger and turned to several men standing nearby, "You have ten seconds to find every weapon you can…"

He walked back into his office and rummaged through his makeshift desk until he found what he was looking for. The silk Hunter's mask brought him a small degree of comfort as he tucked it inside his shirt and turned to leave. When he returned to the hallway, the two men he'd dispatched before stood in front of him looking like they were ready to go to war. In a sense they were, but he was more disturbed to see that most of the men were also standing around waiting for orders.

"What the hell are you all waiting for?" He demanded while taking a compact pistol from one of the men, "You know the drill. Grab everything you can and evacuate the building. We meet at the alternate site in three days."

"Mr. Castaway," Green asked cautiously, "What should I tell Mr. Jenkins when he returns?"

Without warning Jon turned and slammed Troy into the hall, holding him against the wall with his arm. Beads of sweat formed on Jon's upper lip as he increased the pressure on the young man's neck and when he spoke again it was in a low whisper, spiked with resentment. "Who are you loyal to Mr. Green?"

"To you…" the man gasped, "to the Quarrymen…"

"Fine," Jon looked to the rest of the men standing in the hallway, "If any of you find Mr. Jenkins in this building… kill him."

Jon knew from the expression on the men's faces that they had no idea why this ruthless order was being issued so Jon paused to collect his thoughts before continuing. "It's not possible to cut the power to this facility unless you do it from the inside and only one other person besides myself knows how to do it…"

The other men murmured softly amongst themselves and began to move to their assigned locations. Jon Castaway released his grip on Green who immediately began rubbing his throat, not quite trusting himself to speak. When he finally found his voice, it was hushed and raspy, "Mr. Castaway… What about the prisoners?"

The question seemed to distract Jon for a moment, "What about them?"

"Shouldn't someone go down and check on them?"

Jon almost laughed as he took a step closer to the man, "Do you really think they're still down there Mr. Green?"

Troy took a step back in reflex, "Well… Yes Sir…" he stammered, "With the power out, there would be no way for them to…"

"Then you are as stupid as you look…" Jon snorted and turned to move down the hall with two heavily men armed men following closely behind him, "Believe me when I tell you, you won't find them down there. In fact, I'd hazard to guess they're going to try and find us first…"

***** ***** *****

Demona moved quickly through the halls wishing for the moment that she had opted for the stairs rather than the concealed entrance the man with the gun had used earlier. It would have been easy enough to go back but that would mean possibly running into Goliath and that was one situation she planned to avoid at all costs.

If nothing else Demona needed to distance herself from him. The feeling and emotions she picked up from Goliath for the human woman were almost as painful as the curse the Puck placed on her.

Demona shook her head violently as another series of images burst into her mind. She took no time to sort them out as they no longer held any significance for her. There had been a time when she hoped, even prayed that Goliath had somehow completed the Bonding with her, but the events of the previous night confirmed what she feared and suspected for some time.

What she was feeling was Goliath's love for Elisa Maza.

After this painful realization her hatred had grown and as luck would have it, the emotions were picked up by the human woman. Granted it made her feel better to know they caused her pain but it was an insult to an injury already received from a most ungracious opponent.

Demona knew Avalon's magic came with a price but until last night she hadn't realized was how high the price was for trying to use the Puck as a means to destroy the humans. Puck cursing her with humanity turned out to be a curse within a curse.

From the beginning Demona knew she was human during the day because of Elisa Maza; it was the only rational that made sense. Her teachings from the Grimorum Arcanorum told her that non-humans could not become human without a human giving up a part of themselves.

But when you give… you must also take.

Puck had used Avalon's magic to transfer the essence of humanity from Elisa to Demona but during the process, he had given a part of Demona to Elisa.

Whether he had done so intentionally, Puck gave Elisa her link to Goliath.

Demona suspected the Puck did know and it enraged her all the more. She forced the thoughts from he mind as she made her way down yet another passageway. She had yet to encounter anyone but she could hear people moving around on the floors above.

They were looking for them and from the sounds of their voices they were scared.

As well they should be, she thought to herself. Tonight I will show you my wrath and no one will be safe…

She considered crashing through the wall and killing them where they stood but that was just not going to happen. For the first time in her life, she was willing to allow the humans a few precious minute of life but only because it served her purposes. For the moment escape was her first priority and she needed to do it quickly.

Once she was free of the building she planned to return with enough firepower to blow the structure and with any luck the Hunter off the face of the planet.

And if Goliath and his precious human were still in the building when she returned… so be it.

***** ***** *****

They moved through the building at nearly breakneck speed and Matt wished he'd taken the time to slip out of his trench coat but there was no time for that now. Bronx was scratching at yet another fire door so Matt stepped to the side and allowed Broadway to pull the door back. The barrel chested gargoyle had just opened the door when Matt heard the sounds of someone moving in their direction. He was about to suggest they hold back when Bronx took off like a shot.

"Broadway! Grab em'!" Matt yelled out as he reached for the dog-beast but it was too late. In the blink of an eye, Bronx was down the stairs and a split second later they all heard men yelling.

"So much for our surprise entrance…" Brooklyn muttered as he bolted past Matt.

He took the stairs two at a time, shocked at the distance Bronx had managed to cover in such a short period of time. When he finally caught up to him, the dog was growling at two men who were standing in the corner of the landing. Brooklyn smiled, noting that Bronx had positioned himself between the stairs and the exit effectively cutting off any chance at escape. But the smile faded when he saw that both men were heavily armed. Neither had pulled a weapon but it was clear they had not expected to become trapped in such a place.

Desperate men sometimes take desperate measures and Brooklyn had no desire to fight either of these men. But Elisa and Goliath's lives might be at stake and the longer they stood there, the better the chance someone else might show up in the hall. His eyes flashed white as he stepped closer to the men, "Where are they?"

"To hell with you…" one of the men seethed, "You're a fucking animal…"

"Wrong answer pal… You two are in a world of hurt right now, so I think it might be best if you play nice…" Matt voiced softly.

Brooklyn hadn't heard the detective arrive but he was relieved to have the company. Matt smiled a humorless grin and moved to position himself between the gargoyle and the now captive men, "Let's start small. Drop the guns…"

For a moment no one spoke and Brooklyn feared the men might actually be foolish enough to think they could fight their way out of the stairwell. He felt the others arrive and thankfully that was all the inspiration the men to come to their senses. Both men pulled the pistols from their belts and dropped them to the floor.

"Good… that means your smart enough to know better…" Matt's smile faded, "Now how 'bout we answer that original question. Where are they?"

"Down stairs…" one of the men replied. "But you're never gonna find them…"

"Yes we will, because you're gonna help us aren't you. See that's what civilized people do; they help each other." Matt replied lightly.

One of the men cleared his throat and spat in his direction forcing Matt to step back to avoid having the glob land on his shoes, "So much for being civilized…"

"What now?" Angela questioned, "If they don't help…"

Xanatos cut her off before she could complete the statement, "I have the tracker locked in… They're here… not to far away I'm guessing…"

"OK, let's get this over with..." Matt took a step forward and pulled a pair of handcuffs out of his coat pocket, "both of you strip down to your skivvies…"

***** ***** *****

Lexington sat in the Great Hall with Owen who was going over blueprints while he was monitoring the computers and the Clan's progress at the same time. He could hear the others speaking though their headsets and for the hundredth time, he wished he could be there to help them. But he had a job to do and this was where he was most needed. He had a responsibility to the others and he knew in his heart the others would not fail their sworn duty to bring the missing Clan members' home.

He was about to make a comment to Owen when he noticed activity in the Quarrymen database. He quickly checked the Nightstone Unlimited site but found no activity, which meant the Quarrymen site was being activated from an outside link, "Hey Owen… Look at this…"

The blond-headed man walked over and adjusted his glasses. He reached past the young gargoyle and pressed several keys, "It would appear someone is accessing the database…"

"That's what I was thinking too but they shouldn't be able to do what they're doing…" Lexington elbowed his way back to the keyboard and initiated a series of programs, "Ok, here's the intruder…"

Owen nodded, "That is a remote access code…"

"Someone must have put a back door in the system…" Lexington's talons flew over the keyboard and waited to see the results of his trace. When the Internet addresses came back, he nearly fell out of his chair, "Oh no…"

Owen barely nodded, "Can you stop it?"

"Maybe… But I'm gonna need some time…" Lexington pulled his brow together, "Can you run a by-pass relay from my computer to the Eyrie's mainframe?"

"Of course," Owen considered the request, "But it will take a significant amount of time…"

Lexington was listening with half a ear, "How much time?"

"Approximately thirty minutes…"

The green gargoyle snorted, "Any chance you can do it in under a minute?"

***** ***** *****

Elisa and Goliath quickly ducked into an abandoned office and Elisa secured the door behind them. Seconds later several men ran past without bothering to check the door. She waited till the voices faded before speaking, "This is ridiculous… even if we get out of the building, I'm still going have to come back to get Canmore…"

Goliath quickly surveyed the room hoping for a means of escape but found none. His voice was low and haunting when he finally spoke, "You found him once… you will find him again…"

"No." She shook her head adamantly and moved back towards the door, "It's gonna have to be tonight…"

Goliath placed a halting talon on her shoulder, "Elisa… there is a rage building within you… I can feel it and it concerns me greatly…"

"I know," She whispered. "But I don't know what we can do about it right now…"

"We must get you to safety…" he pressed.

"Not yet. Demona is going after the Hunter. We have to stop that from happening…"

"Why?"

"Because she knows who the killers are."

"Then would it not be smarter for her to escape?" Goliath countered.

"Sure, to a logical person, but she hardly fits that bill." Elisa sighed and moved to the door but pulled back abruptly when she heard voices coming down the hall. She moved back to Goliath's side and the pair waited for the hall to clear again, "Besides I'm pretty sure she's not gonna be able to get out of the building…"

Goliath moved closer to Elisa, "What do you mean?"

"The Quarrymen Killers are some of Jon's own people…"

Goliath scratched his held absently, a habit he'd picked up from Brooklyn some time ago, "How do you know this?" he whispered.

"Because of this." She pulled the pin out of her jacket pocket and handed it to him, "Look familiar?"

Goliath gazed at the pin for a long time, "Where did you get this?"

"I found it in Jenkins pockets along with a few other things."

"I know this symbol…" He handed the pin back to Elisa, "It is the mark of the Illuminati…"

"That's what I thought…" Elisa rubbed her eyes then reached around to the small of her back to verify the snub-nosed 38 was still there. She pulled it out and checked the cylinder before tucking it back into the waistband of her jeans, "This whole mess just keeps getting better…"

Goliath watched his mate with careful scrutiny. He could feel her anger and frustration but the emotions were muted and distant. Normally this would have alarmed him but he was becoming more accustom to Elisa closing herself off to him when she was trying to think. He waited until she was focused back on him before speaking, "So you believe the Illuminati are working with the Quarrymen?"

"No and I doubt Jon's a member because Matt would have known and I'm pretty sure he would have told me." Elisa shook her head and tucked the pin back into her pocket, "In fact, I'd be willing to bet that Jon doesn't have the first clue that the Illuminati have infiltrated the Quarrymen…"

"Why would they do this?" Goliath questioned. Elisa said nothing, opting to allow Goliath to come to his own conclusion. An expression of understanding quickly came over his face, "They used the Quarrymen as a means to capture a gargoyle…"

"Exactly. They knew about Jon's vendetta and used it to their advantage." Elisa rose, walked to the door and opened it. She carefully checked the corridor and motioned for Goliath to join her. She paused and glanced back to the dark shadow behind her, "That's why we need to find Jon tonight…"

"No Elisa…" Goliath warned, "The risks are too great. We will go and find…"

"Don't you get it Goliath? I'm still tied into Demona..." Elisa moved further down the hall and away from the relative safety of the abandoned office, "When we find Jon, Demona will most likely try to find me. We have to get the two of them together in order to figure out exactly who the killers are… and we gotta do it before the rest of the Clan comes looking for us. If we don't get this done tonight it might be too late."

Despite his objection moments before, Goliath found himself agreeing with Elisa but he had no idea why. When they reached another abandoned office, he pulled her into it and closed the door behind them. He had been hoping to find a room with windows but once again that was not the case. He pressed her against the wall and looked deep into her eyes. "Too late for what?"

Elisa paused long enough to collect her thoughts, "Jenkins barely batted an eye when Demona underwent her transformation which means he knew about it already. The only way he could have known about Demona would be if Jon Canmore told him. If all the Illuminati wanted was a gargoyle, they could have picked Demona up a long time ago. There would have been no reason for them to go after the Quarrymen."

"But they did…" Goliath replied slowly.

"Jenkins was more than willing to shoot Demona tonight which means the Illuminati didn't want her; not as a gargoyle and certainly not as a human." The expression on Goliath's face told Elisa that he still didn't understand what was going on, which was understandable because she didn't understand it herself until just now. "Goliath, this has been a set up from the word go."

"Meaning?" Goliath prompted.

"The Illuminati and the Quarrymen both want a gargoyle but for very different reasons. The Illuminati figure the Quarrymen have a better chance of pulling it off so they infiltrated the group. When it didn't happen fast enough they took measures into their own hands and started killing off Quarrymen…"

"Thus bringing in the police…" Goliath continued, "and the commander of the Gargoyle Task Force…"

"Not to mention his partner who's been seen by about half the city in the company of Gargoyles… By pulling me into the situation, they were almost assured that you would make your presence known at some point…"

Goliath nodded in understanding and moved to open the door. He knew Elisa was right and that it was best to deal with the situation now rather than later, "Come. We must find the Hunter…"

He was about leave the room when Elisa placed a cautious hand on his forearm, "Goliath, wait a sec… I just thought of something else… What if the Illuminati wanted a specific gargoyle?"

Goliath was puzzled, "What do you mean?"

"Well, what if they wanted to get you all along?"

***** ***** *****

Captain Maria Chavez sat quietly at her desk, drumming a pencil on the top of her phone. She had spoken to Detective Bluestone nearly an hour ago and he implied he knew where Detective Maza was. He claimed she was alive but refused to tell her where and as Chavez expected Bluestone declined her assistance stating that he would call if he needed backup.

Once again Bluestone told her to trust him and against her better judgment, she had. Ultimately, she felt no better about the phone call and in the back of her mind she had to wonder if Matt would actually call if he ran into problems. All things considered it was only one item of a list of concerns that continued to grow at an alarming rate.

She picked up Allen Jenkins' employment file and glanced through it. There were time cards, a letter of recommendation from Mayor Anderson, and an address card but nothing else. Captain Chavez noted no employment or criminal history checks completed either. She figured it was probably a result of having the letter from Mayor Anderson but that was no excuse.

As soon as she walked in the 23rd Precinct, Officer Morgan handed her over a dozen messages from Commissioner Stanton and twice that number from Mayor Anderson demanding an update. She had no intention of calling the Mayor but she toyed with the idea of at least placing a courtesy call to the Commissioner. Eventually she decided against it, as it would only lead to questions she was in no position to answer. Rising from her desk, she walked into the main area of the station to refill her coffee cup. If nothing else a quick walk through the building would serve as a distraction.

The station was quiet but Chavez knew once the nightshift got into full swing, things would pick up. Several detectives nodded to her but no one bothered approaching her. Nearly everyone had seen her in this type of mood before, and those who hadn't, had been forewarned. It was well known within the 23rd that it was usually best to give the Captain a wide birth under these circumstances and no one wanted to be the unwitting recipient of an ass-chewing intended for someone else.

Namely Detectives Maza and Bluestone, who were, as usual, conspicuously absent.

Captain Chavez filled her cup and turned to make her way back to her office. On an impulse she paused at Detective Maza's desk and sat down. She glanced over the desktop, looking for some indication of order but found none and Bluestone's was no better. Both desks were in a state of disarray covered with documents, phone messages and other assorted clutter but the look was deceiving. Like most detectives, they had their own system for file management and Chavez knew she could ask either of them for just about anything and they would know exactly where to find it.

Provided they ever came back.

Captain Chavez pushed the thought aside and on a whim, began pulling open desk drawers. She began going through the contents of Elisa's desk without being entirely certain what it was that she was searching for. It was the first time she'd ever bothered to look through the detective's desks and it was a slightly unnerving experience. When Elisa disappeared almost a year ago she hadn't bothered to check it then and Chavez wondered what possessed her to do so now. After rummaging around for several minutes, she heard a soft cough from behind her.

Looking up she noticed Officer Morgan was standing beside her with a bemused smile on his face, "You'd better be careful Captain. There's no telling what she's got hidden away in there…"

"It wouldn't surprise me if we found Jimmy Hoffa in this desk…" Captain Chavez smiled when she opened a top drawer and pulled out what looked like a tightly bound rubber ball, "Well, I now know where all the rubber bands in this Precinct have gone…"

She shut the drawer and opened the one directly below it. Inside she found more clutter but oddly enough she found two radio communications systems with separate chargers and two additional headsets. Chavez knew some of the officers used such items for surveillance and other operational activities, but what made these unique was the fact they were not standard police issue.

Curiously, she pulled them out and flipped them over in her hand. She pressed a button on one of the radios and it came to life. She listened for a moment but heard only intermittent static so she turned it off. Absently, she set them on the top of Elisa's desk and glanced over her shoulder, "Do you know where Elisa got these?"

Morgan was about to reply when the entire office area came alive with voices. Throughout out the building, desk clerks and police officers began yelling into phones while detectives and booking sergeants slapped the sides of their desktop computers.

"God damn it…"

"Who just killed my computer…?"

"Hey, my phone is dead…"

Ever since the reconstruction of the station, these kind of complaints were common but neither Captain Chavez or Officer Morgan could recall hearing them all at the same time. Chavez gave Morgan a perplexed look, but he merely shrugged as the to of them made their way over to the command section.

The sergeant on duty was yelling into a cellular phone but from the sound of it, either the signal was breaking up or the person on the other end was being of little help. Morgan tapped the man on the shoulder to get his attention, "What's going on Davidson? Did the city forget to pay our phone bill?"

Sergeant Davidson spun around with a retort poised on his lips but held it back after noticing Captain Chavez standing there with the officer, "I dunno Morgan… I just took a call about a power outage on the lower east side… I try to dispatch a patrol and wham-o. The next thing I know the computer and phone line shut down…"

"Maybe it's a power surge…" Morgan cocked his head slightly, "Call the network administrator and ask him if…"

Sergeant Davidson cut him off with a shake of his head, "No, the systems guys just called me over the intercom wanting to know what happened…"

"Well, until the Network comes back up, we'll use the radios…" Chavez replied, "At least that way we still have a way to reach the streets…"

"I don't think that's gonna work either…" Morgan replied, "When the city did the upgrades, everything was tied into the main server for the department…"

Chavez rubbed her head in disbelief, "Do you mean to tell me the computers, phones, LAN systems, and all the hook ups to the patrol cars are fed by the Server?"

"Looks that way…" Davidson interjected, "If they're down we're down…"

"Christ…" Captain Chavez could scarcely believe what she was hearing, "So what you telling me is that the entire New York Police Department is tied into one computer system…"

"No," Morgan countered, "Each department was set up separately but they all have a central server that feeds into the mainframe…" Mogan scratched his head, "The thing is, the system was supposed to have built in safeties so this kind of thing didn't happen… "

"Well, we picked a wonderful time to find out where the system is lacking…" Captain Chavez reached over to took the cellular phone from Davidson and turned to the other officers who were all gathered round.

"Listen up people, we may have a serious problem on our hands. Anyone in the middle of booking a suspect put them in a holding cell for the time being. Anyone not processed in the computer can transferred to Central until we get a handle on this. Sergeant Davidson will make the arraignments for transport."

"In the mean time, someone go down to network administrator's office and tell them I want this problem fixed ASAP. If they ask, tell them yes, I'm well aware of what time it is and no I don't care who they have to call in to fix it."

"Morgan, find a cell phone and call the 48th Precinct to make sure they're up since hopefully this is a local problem. If they are, let them what's going on here and tell them know they're gonna have to field our incoming calls as well as patrols for a while… We also need to shut down all the computers. I don't want to overload the system when the juice comes back up. That's all people… let's get busy."

She paused for a moment as the men and women of the 23rd Precinct carried out her instructions. Most of the officers were in the process of shutting down unoccupied computers and more than a few of the rookies were huddled closely with the more experienced officers getting a crash course on how to fill out the manual booking forms.

The entire group seemed to be doing well under the circumstances but it wouldn't last if the systems didn't come back up soon. Captain Chavez glanced at her watch and noted it was just after midnight.

Chavez groaned and rubbed a sleek hand over her auburn hair. No matter what the outcome of their system failure, someone outside the department needed to know what was going at the 23rd. She flipped open the cell phone and was about to call Commissioner Stanton at his office but realized she needed to call him at home due to the late hour.

Not having his number committed to memory she walked into her officer to retrieve her Rolodex. In the process, she bumped her mouse causing the screen saver to deactivate. Out of reflex she glanced up at the monitor of her computer just as soft Bing emanated from one of the speakers.

She pulled her hand back in shock and surprise when a flash message popped up, "You have new mail. Do you wish to read it now?"

Cautiously she moved the pointer until it was on the 'yes' icon and then clicked the button on the mouse. The action immediately took her into her email and a few seconds later an anonymous message popped up. Chavez scanned it over and could scarcely believe what she was reading.

Your system has been compromised. It was taken off line by a worm virus.

I tied to stop it but it happened so fast that I only had time to reroute your computer to an alternate server. Communications can only go one way. Please do not reply to this message. The server will detect it and back feed to your computer.

Stand by for more information

The message was unsigned and there was no return email address. Chavez considered trying to reply to it but decided against it. She looked at the message for a moment longer and just as she was about to walk out of her office when a second message alert popped up. She clicked on the message to open it and sucked in her breath as she read it.

She picked up her jacket and quickly exited her office, "Where's Morgan?" she called out.

Several detectives pointed to a small group of officers who were cuffing prisoners for transfer. She nodded her thanks and walked over to pull the officer to the side, "Morgan, I need you to do something for me…"

The officer gave her a quizzical look, "Sure Boss, what's up?"

"Find the tactical team chief. Get him in my office ASAP…"

Morgan nodded but gave her perplexed expression, "What's going on?"

"I'm not sure yet…" she muttered as she walked back over to Elisa Maza's desk to pick up the radios she found minutes, "Just do me a favor and do this as quietly as you can…"

***** ***** *****