“Quit yer starin’,” Doyle groused. “Yer makin’ me nervous. It’s
not like I have any control over ‘em.” He hunched his shoulders deeper
into his ever-present worn leather jacket and thought better of propping
his feet up on Cordelia’s desk. “Complain to the Powers That Be if you
want more action.”
Angel guiltily dropped his gaze, turning his attention instead to the wicked-looking pig-sticker in his hand. He couldn’t help staring at Doyle. It was like watching a pot of water, waiting for it to come to a boil. He gave the knife edge another pass over the whetstone; it gave off a shrill shriek to wake the dead. Angel didn’t care. He was already dead. And awake.
“We could go on patrol,” he suggested, sounding like a kid toward the end of summer vacation: too much time off and nothing fun left to do.
“Or we could go to the pub and get a couple of cold ones.”
“Give it up, Doyle,” Cordelia advised, blowing gently on her nails. They were mauve this evening. They had been bright pink a mere hour ago. “You know that tall, dark, and broody over there can’t let an evening go by without rescuing someone. Or something. So just have one of your vision thingies and get it over with. Because I am not going to that pit of darkness you call a hang out.”
“Ah.” Doyle brightened. “You’re suggesting that I take you back to my place instead, Princess. I admit, it need a bit of sprucin’ up, but give me a moment—“
“No,” Cordelia said decisively, “I’m not. I’m meeting friends downtown. Jennifer knows a guy who knows another guy who knows the casting director who’s just been hired to cast this commercial. Something to do with cooking.” She examined her nails critically. “I hear he likes purple.”
She looked directly at Doyle. “We need money.”
“We always need money.”
Cordelia ignored his comment. “In order to get money, we need to work. You know that there are three ways that we get work. One, Angel trips over it. Two, it walks in through that door, or sometimes even busts in through the window. Three, you get a vision. Now, since Angel hasn’t tripped over anything more useful than his tongue, and I don’t see anyone walking in, checkbook in hand, saying ‘help’, it’s up to you, Mr. I-don’t-want-to-have-a-vision.”
Angel moved to the armoire where he stored his weapons. “I’m going out on patrol.” It seemed a good way to end the argument. It would certainly take him out of it. He opened the cabinet doors and pulled out of couple of wooden stakes, sliding them into the harness he had designed himself to fit hidden under his duster. Then he hefted a heavy battle-axe. There were times when he needed to feel the weight of it in his hands, feel the power of it biting into evil’s skull. It made him feel just a little bit better. After two hundred years of evil, he supposed he couldn’t feel any worse.
“I’ll meet wit’ ya later.” Doyle drifted towards the door. “North side tonight?”
“Mmm.” Angel slipped the pig-sticker into the sheath strapped to his calf and pulled the pant leg down over it. He straightened up, puzzled. “How’d you know I was planning to scout the north side?”
“You’re very predictable, boss,” Doyle said. “Last night, it was the western edge. Before that, east.”
“Predictable.” Angel looked stricken.
“You always go in a pattern. First north, then south, then east, and west,” Cordelia put in helpfully. “You’ve been working that way for the last two months at least.”
“I thought it was on purpose,” Cordelia said. “I mean, that’s what Buffy always used to do. How else could so many low life’s find her so easily? Sunnydale’s small, but not that small. If Buffy wanted to do some slaying, she needed to make sure the slay-ees knew where she would be. She made it look like she was surprised, but she actually chose her spot to be ‘ambushed’ very carefully. I mean, hello! How can you do flips off a wall if there’s no wall around to do flips off of? Weren’t you doing the same thing?”
“Not exactly,” he muttered. The battle-axe suddenly felt heavy. “Predictable.”
“And where are you going, Doyle? You can sit your backside on that chair until you do something useful, like have a vision,” Cordelia commanded as the half-demon tried to sneak out. “Here our boss is, doing a wonderful Captain Gloom and Doom impression because he can’t save someone, and all you can think about is beer. Cheap beer, at that.”
“Got it in one, Princess.” Doyle faded out of sight, down the hallway, heading for the stairs.
Cordelia turned on Angel. “And that’s all for you? No, ‘Doyle, come with me?’ No ‘Doyle, watch my back,’?”
“He’ll catch up with me later.” Angel shrugged his shoulders. “It’s not as though I’ve found anything the last few nights.” He grimaced. “Predictable?”
Cordelia nodded gently at him. “Very.”
A thump interrupted their conversation, the sound of a body tumbling backward down the stairs and hitting the floor just outside the office, followed by a whimper of sheer agony. Angel and Cordelia locked eyes, grinning.
“Vision!” they chorused.
“This the place?” Angel glanced around, sharp vampire senses taking
in more details than he ever could before the change. Tall buildings edged
the street with brick walls punctuated by the occasional oversize door
for trucks to back up to. Three garbage bins in back alleys vied with each
other to produce the most noxious scent of rotting food and refuse. Broken
glass from the occasional smashed window glittered in the dying streetlights,
crunching under their feet, and a rat skittered past in the shadows trying
to decide if it were big enough to challenge the two-legged monsters in
its path. At the rat’s size, it was a tough call. Angel bared his fangs
half-heartedly; he’d given up human blood, but he drew the line at rat
as an acceptable substitute. The rat scurried off.
Doyle pointed with his chin. “The one on the end. That’s the building I saw.”
“Three demons, you said,” Angel mused, half to himself. “Big ones, green-brown camo skin, spiky horn thing on each shoulder.”
“Big ears,” Doyle added. “Grab hold of one of those suckers, bet it would hurt somethin’ fierce.”
“And they’ve captured what, half a dozen people?”
“Mostly women,” he confirmed, “and two men. None of ‘em very happy to be there.”
Angel gripped the battle-axe. It felt light in his hand again. “I’ll take the front. You see about slipping in through the back, hit ‘em from behind. Wait for me to start.”
“Not a problem there, boss.” Doyle slid off into the murk. Angel waited a moment to give him time to get into place, then turned his attention to the doorway that Doyle had indicated. The door was locked, but it took Angel only a few seconds to go through it.
He found himself in a cavernous storage room filled with crates stacked on top of each other. They blocked his view. Dust was rampant, swirling in eddies as he tiptoed through them, trying not to sneeze. Then he remembered: he was dead. The dead don’t breathe. If you don’t breathe, you don’t have to worry about sneezing. He felt better.
He listened. There it was: in one corner of the giant storage room, several people whimpering in fear. He could make out at least four different tones, mostly soprano. A couple of deeper voices conversed, though he was too far away to make out what they were saying. That had to be his target. He padded off silently, the battle-axe swinging at his side.
Angel peered around a tower of laden pallets. The scene was just as Doyle had pictured it from the vision. Too late for some, but maybe he could salvage something out of it. Five people were huddled on the floor; they looked in bad shape. The sixth, a young woman, was struggling in the grasp of two of the demons, trying to evade the outstretched arm of the third. A large white gem glittered in the demon’s hand, reaching for her forehead.
Big ones, Angel noted, maybe half a head taller than he was. Green and brown camouflage skin, just as Doyle had described. A short, three-inch spike on each shoulder, and large elephant ears flopping gently with every move. Those ears did look sensitive. The demons were well dressed despite their surroundings; silk shirts tucked into well-tailored sports pants over expensive looking leather shoes. Angel snorted. Preying on poor, defenseless humans was paying well these days, if those demons were any indication of the going rates.
The gem touched the girl. She screamed, the wail of a lost soul, and sagged in the demons’ clutches.
Angel stepped out. “I think that’s enough.”
The lead demon, the one with the gem, frowned. “This here’s a private affair.”
“I’m an expert at gate crashing,” Angel assured him. He swung the battle-axe up suggestively. “Let her go.”
“We’ll take good care of him, Tom,” one of the other demons offered in a broad Southern drawl. “You finish up with the miss.” The two holding the last victim dropped her gently into Tom’s grasp and trotted forward.
Angel was big, but these two topped him by half a head. He grinned, using it as an excuse to go vamp. His forehead thickened, the eyes glittered, and an unholy sense of rightness coursed through him. “Come on, boys.”
It was a toss up as to who took first blood. The demons swung first, but Angel swung faster. One took an axe butt to the solar plexus and Angel followed it up by delivering a haymaker to the other’s jaw with the top of the axe. After that, they ganged up on him. The demons were pretty clever at barrelling into him, shoulder first, Angel discovered. Those spikes on the shoulders gored him a couple of times, but they were only shallow, messy cuts. Angel ignored the blood. He was drawing plenty of his own with the battle-axe.
It looked pretty even until Angel discovered that those elephant ears were as sensitive as he’d thought. The first ear that Angel grabbed caused his victim to scream in agony as great as any of Doyle’s visions.
It felt good. Until the second demon connected his fist with Angel’s jaw. Angel crashed into a tower of crates. He saw stars.
“C’mon! We’re out of here!” called the first demon. “Dick! Harry! Move out!”
The two attacking demons shook their heads in unison. Angel wasn’t certain whether that was what he was truly seeing, or whether that last blow he’d taken had affected his sight, and he was seeing double. He tried pushing his skull back together again. It must have worked, for the two demons got up, not in unison this time, and staggered off.
Doyle dashed up. “Angel! You all right, man? I saw ‘em leaving.”
“Yeah.” He peered up at the half-demon. “Where were you? I said get them from behind, not wait until they were through.”
“They had an old man sitting in a back room. Dessert, I think. I got him out of here, then I came in.”
“Oh. Sorry.” Angel returned his features to human. “Them?” He indicated the little mess of humanity, shivering on the cement warehouse floor.
“Not much left of them, I think. Whatever was going on sucked the living daylights out of ‘em.”
Angel walked over to the four women and two men. Doyle was right; there wasn’t much left. Each one huddled in a ball, arms wrapped around their knees, emitting small cries of terror. They stared right through him. Angel wasn’t certain they even saw him.
“We were too late,” he said, crestfallen.
“Not quite. We got the old man out.” Doyle stood next to him. “Not much we can do for this lot.”
“I’ll make an anonymous call to the police. Maybe a hospital can help them.” By the tone of his voice, it was clear that Angel didn’t think so. But what else to do?
“Here they are, big as life.” Doyle pointed to the picture in
the text on demonology. “Bayou demons, it says. Big, usually even-tempered,
keep to themselves. Come from the swamps of Louisiana. Harmless unless
riled. They’ve absorbed a bit of Haitian voodoo magic into their culture,
and have been known to throw a few curses around but otherwise not too
difficult to get along with. Have a talent for sympathetic magic; voodoo
dolls, like. Hmmm. They have a pretty tasty-lookin’ jambalaya recipe in
“Louisiana, huh? Makes sense. I thought I heard a bit of a drawl, but I was a little busy to pay much attention. What’re they doing here in L.A.?”
“More to the point, how do we kill ‘em?”
“I’d rather just send them back to Louisiana, where they belong. Sounds like they’re usually a harmless bunch. There must be a reason they’re here. Find anything on that diamond thing he had?” Angel put down his own text to lean over Doyle’s shoulder.
“Nope. But look here, Angel, it says that they’re passing hard to kill, though cold’ll slow ‘em down enough to do some serious damage.” Doyle looked up. “Think you could arrange for a blizzard to pass through L.A.?”
“I think you have me confused with the National Weather Bureau, Doyle.” He leaned back, stretching out sore muscles stiffening after the fight. “Now we know what they are. Gotta stop ‘em, Doyle. Next step is to find out what they’re doing so far from home.”
“Wrong.” Cordelia kicked open the office door, and stood, framed by the edge of the door. She had kicked open the door because her arms were full of packages. “Nudged it open,” she would have said. “Almost broke it,” was Angel’s description.
She looked brightly at the two. “Which one of you knows how to cook?”
As usual, Cordelia managed to convince them that her problem would
supercede any and all need to research, look up, hunt down, and otherwise
pursue the otherworldly issue at hand.
“Cordelia,” Angel began, “we kind of have a problem going on here. People are getting turned into living corpses.”
“Everyone has problems, Angel. Mine has a deadline. Does yours?” She set down her packages and tore into one. She held up a large and heavy cast iron skillet. “What is this?”
Angel inspected it dubiously. “I think it’s used to cook food.”
“Well, I know that!” Cordelia said witheringly. “What I don’t know is how to use it. Do you?”
“Pretty much out of my line,” Angel admitted, “since I haven’t eaten for about two hundred years. Doyle?”
“Cold cereal out of a box is my speed,” Doyle acknowledged, then added, “Me mum used one pretty regularly. Her cooking used to be the talk of the neighborhood. Can’t tell you what they said, of course. Not in mixed company.”
Cordelia handed him the skillet. “Close enough. Where’s the button?”
“The one to turn it on.”
“Cordelia, you use it on top of a stove.”
“Well, why didn’t you say so in the first place?” Cordelia dumped the skillet onto the desk with a thump. Angel winced. The textbook underneath had been over three hundred years old. Now it was a three hundred-year-old pile of dust. At least it wasn’t the one he was using right now.
“Why do you need to know how to cook?” he asked her.
She favored him with her patented smile no. 318, used for children and simpletons who Simply Didn’t Understand the Big Picture. “If you recall, I told last night that I was meeting with Jennifer, who has a friend, who knows a guy—“
“You got an audition.” Angel turned the long story into a short one. “And you need to know how to cook, to get the part.”
“More specifically, how to use this hunk of iron.” Cordelia beamed; her brightest student had come through again. “Doyle. What do I do?”
Doyle shrugged. “Me mum, she used to put it on the stove, light the burner, and throw hunks of food into it.”
“I think she stirred it around a bit, every so often.”
“That doesn’t sound so hard,” Cordelia said doubtfully. “I think I can do that.” She pulled out a cookbook from her load of packages. “Even though this book doesn’t put it in such clear terms.” She looked up. “Problem solved. I can practice later. Now, what did the two of you do last night, who’s the client, and did you bring home a check? Cold cash is also acceptable. Jewelry is less desirable, but can be pawned.”
They filled her in. Cordelia shook her head. “Don’t you two ever read the newspaper?”
“Of course we do,” Angel returned. “What does that have to do with anything? There’s been nothing in the news about this.”
“Oh, nothing in the regular paper,” Cordelia admitted, “but the trades are all full of it. Just run-of-the-mill trash on the streets for the LAPD, but Hollywood is turning it into a media circus. They’re going to make a TV movie about it, just as soon as the police catch whoever it is and have a satisfying conclusion to write into a two hour time block. Everyone is wondering who will do the Harrison Ford part, since of course a TV movie couldn’t afford him, so they’ll have to make do with a no name character actor. The word on the street is that they’re looking at some up and coming guy named Quinn, but—“
“How long has this been going on?” Angel broke in.
“Three weeks, at least. One or twice every week, another crop of young and beautiful kids—“ she interrupted herself. “At least, young!—have turned up babbling to themselves. The police think it’s some kind of new designer drug, even though no hospital can come up with any evidence. I hear some of the writers are trying for a drug lord plot line. Another one wants an aliens from Mars scenario.” She paused. “If you would have told me that you were going to get involved with this mess, I could have let you know all this weeks ago, Angel. Really, you have to organize yourself.”
“Organize yourself, Angel,” Doyle mocked.
Angel gave him a dirty look. “Let’s see what we can find on the diamond.”
“Two weeks, then.” The little tailor bowed slightly, his thick
southern drawl disappearing rapidly under the L.A. influence. He finished
chalking the alterations onto the suit coat as his customer headed out
into rush hour traffic, hanging the coat up neatly next to several other
suits also waiting for final repairs. He puttered around a few moments
more, cleaning up after the end of the day, and finished by carefully turning
the sign over so that it now read “closed.” He had considered adding, “come
back tomorrow” to the sign but decided that his customers didn’t need the
added incentive. Even after a mere two months of business, the tailoring
shop had more work than it could handle. Quality work had a habit of doing
that. Especially in a town as looks-conscious as L.A. Almost made him think
about staying here permanently.
He missed his wife tremendously. Not only was she the one to handle the business end of the business, but she had a gift for charming the customers. Need a tie? She could unerringly pick out the one that looked as though it would clash, and turn it into a new and exciting fashion statement. And she was a deft hand with a needle, too, adding just a bit of embroidery to this and that. No, never the tailoring itself; that she left to him and their three sons. But a bit of lace onto a dress shirt for the evening, or a monogram onto a silk handkerchief, that was where she shined.
He missed her tremendously.
He gathered up four of the suits. Busier than he wanted to be, they each of them worked on one more article of clothing after closing in order to keep up with the demand. It should all work out, if his plans went properly. Enough money to retire on. His wife back with them. They could go back to Louisiana, where they belonged.
“Boys,” he called. “Tom! Dick! Harry! Y’all ‘bout ready to finish up for the night? ‘member, we got comp’ny coming ‘bout eight.”
“Yes, Daddy.” One large man came from the back room and relieved his father of the burden. “We can have these here finished up in no time.” The other two nodded, smiles on their faces. For such large men, the tailoring they did was remarkably fine. One hung up the pants he had just finished putting a cuff on. The stitches were invisible; the only defect was that in the cloth itself, and that the tailor family had no control over. The three men bore a strong resemblance to their father, with clear brown eyes, heavy eyebrows, and somewhat overlarge ears made less obvious by shaggy brown hair.
The “comp’ny” the old man had referred to was prompt, arriving two minutes before eight, folder in hand. He could have been one of the shop’s preferred customers: his somber gray suit was tailored with those same elegant stitches that the family prided themselves on. Dick showed him into the back office that they used exclusively for book keeping. An old mechanical calculator sat next to a shiny blue plastic computer on the table against the far wall; Tom and Harry each placed a hip against the table, while Dick allowed his father and guest the only good chairs in the room. Dick himself took a creaky folding chair that threatened to dump him on the floor. High on a shelf, well dusted and in a place of honor, sat a white gem on top of blue velvet. It glittered in the soft glow of the office lamps.
“Damn contacts,” the visitor complained after the pleasantries were over. “Make my eyes itch. Mind if I get rid of them?” He popped them out, tucking them into a small gold case, and looked back up. His eyes, now free of camouflage, looked black and slitted and faintly reptilian. In fact, if one watched closely, one could even see the visitor’s tongue flick out occasionally to test the air. A forked tongue.
“This wasn’t a difficult assignment,” he acknowledged. “Your quarry is making quite a name for himself in these parts. In fact, there are a number of interested parties who would be quite pleased if he were to be eliminated from the L.A. scene. ‘So many tries, so little dust’,” he paraphrased. His audience politely smiled, unamused. The guest hurried on. “It’s all in the folder. The vampire is the one formerly known as Angelus; rather famous across Europe for quite a while. Now he seems to be working for the other side, calls himself Angel. But the interesting thing about him is—“ he paused for effect, “—is that the vampire has a soul.”
“A soul!” The old man sat up. “An immortal soul? In an immortal body? That would be a tremendous amount of life force.”
“Yes, it would,” the guest agreed. “It’s all there in the folder. His home, his friends, his habits and hang outs. Most unusual for his type: he recently broke up with a Slayer. How often do you hear of one of his type hanging around with a Slayer? His associates: a human girl who appears to provide little to the group beyond amusement, and a half-Brachen demon who receives communications from The Powers That Be for the vampire. He has an on-going feud with the law firm of Wolfram and Hart. You’ve heard of them? Most try to avoid their notice and, if noticed, relocate themselves quickly. So far the vampire has managed to survive their attentions.” He paused, and smiled. “The folder also contains details of the curse that restored his soul. Quite the ingenious little hex, that.”
“Ah can see that. You’ve been very thorough. Ah appreciate that.” The old man leaned back in his chair, flipping through the folder and thinking furiously. The boys could almost see the idea forming in his head. “Tom, fetch your mother.”
“My mother, Daddy?”
“Yes, boy. Fetch your mother.”
“Yes, Daddy.” Tom stood up tall, not even needing to stretch to take the white gem down from its place of honor. “My mother,” he introduced the gem to the guest. Dick and Harry moved to positions behind their visitor in case more than verbal persuasion was called for, but there was no need. The guest didn’t realize what was happening until the gem was pressed to his forehead, draining out his life force, and by then it was too late.
The three brothers stood outside in the deepening dusk, far enough
away from the streetlights so that no one would be able to easily identify
them. They huddled together, looking for all the world like half of UCLA’s
offensive line, ready to grunt “hup” and tromp off into position and stomp
the opposing quarterback into hamburger. But they still remained well-clad
in cable-stitched turtlenecks over sports pants and expensive Italian leather
shoes. Black leather bombadier jackets completed the GQ look, offset by
the camouflage skin tones and spikes emerging from buttonholes carved into
“How hard could it be?” Dick grinned. “One lil’ human, and a girl at that. This won’t take all of us. Y’all go grab a beer; Ah’ll join you as soon as Ah stash her in the pick up.”
Tom shook his head, ears gently flapping against the sides of his head. “You heard what Daddy said. All of us. You want to defy him? Not me. You and me’ll take the front door, Harry’ll go up the fire escape and block the back window. Got it?”
It really did sound like “hup,” and they broke into two teams, trotting to their assigned positions, trying hard not to shake the ground as they moved.
Inside her apartment, Cordelia stepped out of her shower, bundling her hair into a make shift turban from her towel. Carefully she applied delicately rose-scented lotion to every square centimeter of skin, unaware of the approaching danger. Thus fortified, she made her way to the kitchen.
The skillet sat on the cold stove, waiting for action. The cookbook, flipped open to a hopefully useful page, lay on the counter beside it.
Cordelia took a deep breath. “Okay, I can do this.” She had another thought. “If Doyle can do this, that I can certainly do it.” She peered at the cookbook. “One tablespoon of vegetable oil,” she muttered. “Don’t have that. Wait a minute, maybe I do.” She disappeared back into the bathroom, only to re-emerge with a bottle of body oil. She examined it closely. “It’s oil. It must be the same thing, only different.” Cordelia poured a generous amount into the cold skillet and turned up the heat. She looked back at the cookbook, reading, “break two eggs into pan.” She sighed, taking two eggs from her refrigerator. “Break eggs,” she repeated to herself. “Well, here goes.” She dropped the two eggs onto the pan, gratified to see the white shells shatter on the hard cast iron and yellow leak out from around the shards.
“See? I knew it wasn’t so hard.” She leaned back to watch her hard work cook.
As if by magic the salt and pepper shaker moved next to the stove.
“It says, salt and pepper optional, Dennis,” Cordelia explained to the invisible spirit. “That means I don’t have to use them. I think I’d better stay simple for the first time, don’t you?”
The salt and pepper shaker rattled insistently.
“Oh, all right. But you have to eat your share. And mine, if I don’t like it.”
A knock at the door interrupted her cooking rehearsal. Cordelia frowned. She wasn’t expecting anyone, and certainly didn’t want to see anyone while naked beneath her robe. She may not have gotten very far with her career but as an upstanding actress she had to draw the line somewhere, and somewhere meant no nude scenes. On or off camera.
“Who is it?” half expecting Angel or Doyle.
“Uh… Pizza delivery.”
“I didn’t order any pizza.” She whirled. “Dennis! Were you so worried that you had to go order pizza?”
A waft of cold air assured her that the ghost had every confidence in her; more so because he no longer required food.
“You’re right, and that lets out Angel, too. Doyle?”
Dennis indicated that he had no idea.
“Pizza’s gittin’ cold, lady,” Tom hollered. He banged on the door, loudly. “Ain’t got all day.”
“All right, all ready!” Cordelia flounced to the door and unlocked it.
Dennis locked it.
“Dennis!” Cordelia yelled, unlocking the door again.
Dennis promptly relocked it.
“Look, ghost,” Cordelia warned, “unless you want a full-fledged exorcism, you unlock this—my stove!”
The unattended skillet, overheated, was sending up egg-scented smoke signals.
Harry was climbing in through the back window, which led straight into the kitchen. Cordelia did what any other girl in her position would do: she grabbed the smoking skillet off the stove and whacked Harry over the head with it.
Harry fell off the fire escape into the trash dumpster below. The dumpster had been missed during a recent trash pick up, and, as a result, was overflowing with effluvium. Harry came into contact with a great deal of it, and, while it certainly broke his fall, did nothing to improve his appearance. His camouflage green and brown skin took on the distinctly blue tones of melted raspberry slime.
Meanwhile, Tom and Dick, tired of waiting for Cordelia to let them in politely, smashed a hole in the door. Ghost Dennis took the pepper shaker, lifted a large quantity of the black stuff into the air, and blew it out through the hole into their faces.
“Mace!” Dick screamed, recognizing the sensation from an unpleasant episode during his formative years that involved a young woman who eventually acquired the reputation of being a witch, although not of the supernatural variety. Tom and Dick clawed at their faces, tears pouring out of their eyes and sneezing. Ghost Dennis removed the now congealed mass of half-cooked egg from where it had fallen on the floor when Cordelia had grabbed the skillet, whisked it out through the hole in the door and provided a slippery path to help the demon brothers exit. Tom and Dick staggered onto the yellow slime, and their feet flew out from under them. They landed hard, and tumbled down the staircase and out the main front entrance. Both ran.
It was a sorry trio that faced their daddy. Two had faces puffed
out and red, tears still streaming down their cheeks, while the third—freshly
showered—surreptitiously sniffed to see if he could still detect the aroma
of eau d’garbage. (He could.)
“Three of you, little bitty girl,” the old man sniffed. “What’ve Ah been raising all these years, a bunch of pansies?”
“She had a magic familiar and it was powerful, daddy!”
“She had a big ole club with spikes, daddy!”
“She put a hex on us, daddy, a big black cloud that burned our eyes and took away our breath!”
“Shut up, all of you. Lemme think.” The three shut up, having learned respect their paterfamilias, especially in a thinking mode. ‘Cause if he came out of that thinking mode and went straight into demon, well, the old man could still whup all three of ‘em and have leftovers for lunch. The old man sat in his chair, rocking back and forth on the back legs, closing his eyes in thought.
“We need that vampire, and we need him alive,” he mused.
“Or at least as alive as he currently is.”
“The direct approach doesn’t appear to be working too fine.”
“Doesn’t even work on a little bitty girl.”
“Yes, daddy.” Uncomfortable snuffles.
“Gotta get that vampire to come to us.”
“Gotta make him come begging.”
“Yes, daddy. How we gonna do that, daddy?”
The old man smiled: he had a plan! The drawl grew thicker. “Where’s that file that detective feller left here? Here it is. Tom, you go fetch that camcorder of yours. You’re gonna take some movie pictures. Dick, Harry, y’all go to that Brachen boy’s home and see what you can find for me. Now, here’s what Ah’m gonna do…”
“I’m telling you, this is not a kitchen item,” Cordelia told them,
“this is a weapon.”
“In the right hands, I totally agree with you,” Doyle nodded. “That’s what me mum always said.”
“I probably would be one of those icky mindless dolts right now if it weren’t for this skillet.” She looked up at Angel. “Would you like one for your weapon collection?”
“No, thanks,” Angel returned hastily. “It… probably takes a lot of practice to use properly.” He glared at Doyle, daring him to say something.
Doyle took him up on it. “Y’know, I could use a little protection, Cordelia. My own place got broken into earlier today.” Angel rolled his eyes.
Cordelia sniffed. “Like you have anything worth stealing.”
“That’s apparently what they found out. Didn’t take nothing. Messed up the place a bit, though. Can’t find my hairbrush. Or my toothbrush. Come to think of it, the toothbrush has been missing for a couple of days.” He leaned back in his chair. “The best plan ever: you got nothing, nobody can take it from you.”
“Still,” Angel mused, thinking, “they did come after you, Cordelia. We must have hit a nerve somehow. I’m not sure it’s safe for you to be home alone. Maybe one of us should stay with you.”
Doyle sat up. “I volunteer.”
“Oh, puh-leeze! My choices: a reformed vampire who could un-reform at any moment, or—,” she floundered for a good enough description, “you! At least those gross and disgusting demons were well-dressed.”
“What’s the matter, Princess? Not good enough for you?”
“As a matter of fact, no.”
“I’m hurt.” Doyle put a dramatic hand to his heart. “I’m wounded, Princess. After all we’ve been through…”
“The gem,” Angel reminded them. “Can we get back to looking for whatever it is?”
“I used to live among sapphires, rubies, emeralds,” Cordelia moaned. “Now, look at me. I’m reduced to researching cursed stones. I’ll probably end up as an ugly librarian type, all bent over with glasses. Instead of smashing this one, can we at least have it set in a necklace, something tasteful to wear in the evening?”
“Sure, if you don’t mind brain-sucking your date,” Angel said. “Take that text book over there; I haven’t looked at it yet.”
“White diamond, size of a goose egg. How unique,” Cordelia muttered sarcastically, flipping through pages. “Here it is.”
“I said, here it is. Don’t you listen?”
“You found it that fast?”
“Angel, you hired me to run the office and do research, albeit at a ridiculously low salary. This is what I do. Live with it.” She shoved the book at her undead employer, disdaining to reconsider her choice of words. Angel looked at the picture, with Doyle peering around his shoulder.
“The Forever Diamond, first described by the ancient Greeks, thought to have been one of the tears of Aphrodite over the loss of her mortal lover. It is said to confer immortality on whoever possesses it. It is a white diamond, roughly oval in shape, to the dimensions of an eagle’s egg…Nope. That can’t be it. The stone we saw was definitely much smaller. Goose, not eagle. Keep looking, gang.”
“Wait a minute. What about this one?” Doyle pointed to the next entry. “The Stone of Ganara.”
“White quartz,” Angel read. “It is considered a poor imitation of the Forever Diamond, created by the ancient Celts in order keep themselves alive forever.” He looked up to comment, “definitely a rush job. It works by taking the life force of those it touches and giving it to…” He peered more closely at the ancient text. “Can’t make it out. Looks like something about giving it to the dead.”
“One dead,” Doyle thought.
“Maybe it can only be used by one person at a time?” Cordelia wondered. “If it’s quartz, Angel, I’m not interested in keeping it around. Diamonds, yes; quartz, no. Very tacky.”
“Should make it easier to destroy,” Angel said. “Not as hard as a diamond. Wonder what those Bayou demons wanted it for? This entry says it doesn’t work on demons. Just humans, and an occasional swamp rat. Hmm. Wonder how they found out about that last?”
It was the old man himself doing the work, basking in the glow
of the Stone of Ganara. A bit of silk for the face, the arms and legs with
good linen, and a scrap of brown leather to simulate the jacket. He didn’t
have his beloved wife’s touch with embroidery, but he did his best to stitch
in some black hair and it did end up with the appropriate amount of dark
curl. The haze coiled lazily around his head, silently pointing out how
a stitch here would increase the sympathetic magic and a tuck there would
enhance its potency.
But what made the poppet work wasn’t so much the outer clothing, or even the look. It was what he stuffed into the chest. He carefully combed out the stray dark hair caught in a purloined hairbrush and shoved it into the chest cavity of the poppet like a chicken to be roasted for a Sunday dinner. He added a few carefully picked herbs into it—every good stuffing needs proper seasonings. He even meticulously basted the stuffing with a drop or two of cheap beer, just to enhance the flavor and effectiveness. Then he stitched the edges up, and took his prize out to his boys after carefully replacing the Stone containing the essence of his wife back into its place of honor on the shelf.
Tom had the VCR ready, the cassette already prepared from the camcorder. He had hooked it up with an extra cable from the output jack, but this cable ended surprisingly with a sewing needle filed to a sharp point.
“All ready, daddy,” he announced.
“Roll the tape,” the old man commanded, and stuck the needle into the head of the poppet. The TV monitor on top of the VCR wriggled into focus, the first scene showing Cordelia walking along the street. She stopped a moment to fix her hair in the reflection of a storefront window, then moved on, unaware that she had been cast in her first feature film. The scene cut awkwardly to a back alley, where the three Bayou demons waited, net in hand, for their “victim” to approach. The picture wobbled uncertainly as the amateur camera wielder juggled the camcorder from one hand to the other.
They ran the mini-movie on a loop several times to make sure that the message got through before pulling the needle out of the poppet’s head. The sound wasn’t working too well on the VCR, but it wasn’t sound that the Bayou demons were after. Just straight visuals with a very clear message: a trap for Cordelia. The old man had fond memories of growing up during the era of silent movies, and this worked just fine for him.
“Think it got through, daddy?” Harry asked.
“We’ll find out, boy.”
“Let’s review what we’ve got.” It still wasn’t coming together
for Angel. “We’ve got three Bayou demons—“
“Big, ugly, mean Bayou demons,” Cordelia put in, “but with excellent taste in clothes.”
“—Big, ugly, mean Bayou demons,” Angel amended, “and the Stone of Ganara. We’ve got a bunch of victims. We’re looking at more victims down the road to feed this stone. A stone that only works for humans, which the Bayou demons aren’t. So who are they working for?”
Cordelia flipped the page on the text containing the gem information. “The life forces should only be gathered from young, healthy humans; the young are too frail to offer much force, and the elderly have too little left to make the process worthwhile. Virginity of the victims adds significantly to the amount of life force collected; it is recommended that more virgins be used to decrease the number of victims required for revivification.” She looked up. “That explains why the demons need so many victims. I mean, this is L.A.”
“Yes, but who do they want to bring back to life?” Angel sighed. A thought occurred to him. “Doyle.”
“That old man that you rescued.”
“What was he doing there?”
“I thought he was dessert.”
“Yes, but they weren’t looking for just anyone. Those Bayou demons wanted young, healthy adults. Which he wasn’t. Healthy, sure, but not young.”
“I see your point,” Doyle said. “Not dessert. You think he might be paying those demons to work for him? Maybe storin’ up a little extra life for a rainy day for ‘imself?”
“I think it might be a good question to explore. Cordelia, you have a talent for sketching. Get out your pad of paper and pencils and see if you can’t draw the man that Doyle found. We can ask around, see who he is.”
“Get real, Angel,” Cordelia said, wiggling the mouse to the computer. “This is the dawn of the New Millennium.” She pulled up the graphics program on the screen and put on a face-profiler. “Eyes: one or two? Or three? Dark hair, or silver? Doyle?”
Thump. The half-demon’s body hit the floor, writhing, his hands going to his head and in too much pain even to cry out.
“Another vision, already?” Cordelia said waspishly. “We haven’t finished with the first one yet. Don’t the Powers That Be have any sense?”
“This looks like a bad one,” Angel observed calmly. “We may need to interrupt what we’re doing with the Bayou demons to follow up on this.” He lifted Doyle up and laid him on the couch, the half-demon holding in a whimper and unable to do anything more than clutch his aching head. Cordelia stood up to peer over the desk at the pair.
“At least give us a hint of what you’re seeing, Doyle,” she told him. “It’ll make you feel better.”
“Cordelia…” he groaned, trying to detach his skull from the rest of his body. “Cordelia…”
“Yes, I’m right here. Tell Angel what you’re seeing.”
“Enough already. I’m waiting, Doyle.”
“Cordelia,” Angel said in exasperation. “Have some consideration.”
“Cordelia… trap…. nets…. Bayou demons…” Doyle whipped his head back and forth, banging frantically against the couch, fear in his eyes. “Angel, it hurts too much! Make it stop!”
Angel grabbed his hands. “Doyle, stop thrashing! You’re going to hurt yourself. Cordelia, get a pillow or something, something to protect his head.” This vision was going on far too long. Normally it was just a few seconds: vision finished and then Doyle was telling Angel all about who needed rescuing. This was a long one. How much did The Powers That Be possibly have to tell Angel? How much of this could Doyle take? Angel was getting nervous.
Cordelia hurried back with a pillow, thrusting it under Doyle’s head. “Where is this trap? It better not be my apartment!” she warned. “I’m armed and dangerous!”
Doyle didn’t answer her. His eyes rolled back up in his head, and he went stiff as a board. Little tremors rocked his unresponsive body.
“I don’t think he’s breathing!” Angel exclaimed. “Doyle!’
It stopped. Doyle went limp, took a deep, sighing breath, and passed out.
“Doyle?” Angel jiggled his shoulder. “Doyle?”
“The trap, Doyle,” Cordelia demanded.
“I think we’d better let him sleep it off,” Angel said hesitantly. “His color isn’t so good. Was that a seizure?”
“Hmmm. You’re right, he does look a little gray. Or blue. Are you supposed to look blue when you’re sick? I thought you always looked gray. Anyway, what about that trap he was talking about in connection with me?”
“Haven’t a clue, but you’re staying here tonight,” Angel decided. “At least until Doyle wakes up and tells us where that trap is. You are obviously the victim. I don’t dare let you go out alone, and I can’t leave Doyle like this. You can sleep downstairs.”
“Not a chance,” Cordelia told him. “I have an audition tomorrow. I need my sleep, I need my clothes, I need my make up. Staying here is not an option.”
“You can use my bed, and I’ll get your clothes and make up from your apartment.”
“Ghost Dennis will worry.”
“He’ll live,” Angel said, then shrugged his shoulders. Semantics weren’t important at the moment.
Cordelia glared. “All right, but I want clean sheets.”
“Shouldn’t the vamp be here by now?” Dick whispered to Harry,
carefully, so that their father couldn’t hear. They were crouched in an
alleyway conveniently located next to their tailoring shop, the same alleyway
that they had put in Doyle’s false vision. “We been here over an hour.”
“Closer to three, Ah guess.” Harry checked his watch. “Two hours, forty-five minutes. Ah don’t think he’s coming.” He straightened up, to get the creaks out of his back. It was hard to maintain the same bent over posture that their video version of a vision had demonstrated. Virtual reality was fine in theory, but his spine was sore! He dropped the net accidentally, and hurried to pick it up before his father noticed.
As a Bayou demon, the old man had doubled in size. Still not as tall as his sons, nevertheless his shoulders made it clear that he could stop a sixty-mile-an-hour train without breaking a sweat. They could barely see his camouflaged skin in the dark, but the chain that he carried glinting in the moonlight clearly defined his place in the tableau. A wooden cross lay nearby should it become necessary to threaten the vampire. The old man/demon was taking no chances. Not when he was this close to his goal.
But now he too straightened up. “Better pack it in, boys. The vamp’s not coming.” He considered for a moment. “Dick, Harry, you boys clean up here. Me and Tom’ll wander down by that vamp’s office, see if we can discover anything.” He handed the chain to his youngest son.
Three AM. Angel moved restlessly through the office, unable to
do anything useful. He read through the texts at least four more times
without gleaning any additional information. He did a fruitless computer
search on Bayou demons. He watched Doyle breathe from where he lay sleeping
on the sofa, a worn blanket tossed over the half-breed. He caught up on
Cordelia’s filing. He stared out the window. He watched a feral cat attack
and then flee from an equally feral rat. He saw three drunken souls stagger
in to a cab for a safe trip home. The stars in the sky didn’t look as beckoning
as they did in the old country, washed out by the glow of L.A. at night.
He couldn’t go outside to patrol. He couldn’t leave the office without placing Cordelia in danger. Doyle’s vision clearly had something to do with her. What, Angel didn’t know and he wasn’t about to risk her to find out. The Powers That Be never sent visions for the heck of it. They always had a purpose. So Cordelia was downstairs, having appropriated his bed and last pair of clean sheets and pajamas, and was now gently snoring. Angel envied her.
And then there was Doyle. Loyal half-demon plagued by Cordelia and killer headaches alike that brought Angel tantalizing leads on people in need. What were those headaches doing to him? Granted, his demon half gave Doyle more stamina than any human but would it be enough? Were the Powers That Be slowly killing Doyle in order to give Angel the information he needed? This last vision seemed so; he had never seen Doyle pass out afterwards. The half-demon was always up and around in minutes, if not exactly frisky. It seemed somewhat careless of the Powers; how could Angel act if Doyle wasn’t in any shape to tell him what he saw?
Doyle stirred. “Angel?”
“Doyle. How’re you feeling?”
“Wrung out, man. That was a bad one.”
Angel agreed, and pulled a chair close by. “What did you see?”
“Cordelia, as beautiful as ever. She was walking home from this place, hair swinging in the breeze, passing all kinds o’ people.”
“The trap,” Angel reminded him, handing him a glass of water. “You said something about a trap, and the Bayou demons.”
“Oh, right.” Doyle took a sip, and Angel had to steady his hand. “They’re waiting for her, Angel. Wit’ nets, and such. The three of them.” He started to get up in alarm. “You didn’t let her leave, did you?”
“Relax.” Angel pushed him back down with ease; too easily, Angel thought and took the glass back from him to keep it from spilling. “Cordy’s downstairs, safe.”
“Good.” Doyle closed his eyes. “Just kept playing over and over: Cordy walking down the street, then the Bayou demons waiting for her. Like a vinyl record skipping back over a groove. Wouldn’t stop. Real vivid, but false-looking colors. Sort of an old VCR picture out of alignment; no green, just blue. Flesh tones kind of putrid. And a kind of static-y noise ringing in my ears throughout the whole thing.” He shuddered. “Don’t ever want to have another vision as bad as that. Worse than fingernails on a blackboard.”
“Get some sleep,” Angel told him. “I’m going to need you tomorrow. Cordelia insists on going to her audition in the morning, and I can’t take her.”
“Right. Real embarassin’ for your bodyguard to go up in flames in the middle of everything.”
Something crashed in the hallway, muffled on the thin carpet. Angel heard the noise, and held up his hand to stop Doyle from speaking. He walked over to the door and peered out into the dark: nothing. Doyle raised his eyebrows silently. Angel shrugged. “Must have imagined it. Go back to sleep.”
Outside the office, in the hallway, the dark figures picked up the plant pot that the larger one had stumbled over, then moved on, passing by an un-curtained window and casting soft shadows in the moonlight. They eased the front door closed silently, and waited until they were far enough away to speak.
“Maybe Ah tucked a few too many drops of beer into that poppet,” the old man wondered. “Too much conductance. Brachen spawn never told the vamp the message. Whole thing worked a little too well; almost fried the Brachen’s brains. Poppet’s already been made, can’t make it over again better, not without a lot of fuss. Nothing more to do tonight; vamp’s not gonna stir from his nest.” He sighed. “Gotta use the girl to draw the vamp to us, that’s the plan. Figure out how we can use her.”
“You up to this?” Angel asked doubtfully. The sun was up and bright
behind carefully closed blinds. Downstairs Cordelia was working on her
third choice of outfit that she had made Angel fetch for her before dawn.
Doyle, now sitting on the couch instead of flat on his back, had his aching
head in his hands.
“Sure,” Doyle muttered. Angel would have been more convinced if he could have understood what Doyle had just said. “Just don’t open the blinds.”
“No problem there.”
“And if you mention food, I’ll stake you on the spot.”
“Again, no problem. How does standing sound?”
“Like a very bad idea.”
“You can do it.” He helped Doyle to his feet, steadying him as he wobbled. “That’s it, put one foot in front of the other.” He frowned. “You sure you’re okay? You’ve never been this bad off after a vision.”
Cordelia entered in time to see them. Today’s audition outfit relied heavily on purple and an unmatched talent for putting a difficult combination of shades together. She took in the scene between vampire and half-demon, put her hand on one hip, and dangled her favorite hunk of cast iron in the other suggestively. “And this is what you consider protection? Me, I’d rather rely on my trusty skillet, here.”
“Me, too,” Doyle said, under his breath, staggering. Angel caught him.
“Don’t worry,” Angel reassured her. “I’ve got a simple little spell that I’ve prepared for just such an occasion. It’ll fix him right up.” Carefully, so that Cordelia couldn’t hear, he whispered into Doyle’s ear, “Many beautiful women, very few brains.”
Doyle brightened. “Feelin’ better already! Let’s go, Cordy!’
Cordelia glowered suspiciously. “I’m driving.”
“That was it? A little, bitty twenty minutes?” Doyle exclaimed.
“Where were all the other girls, waitin’ their turn?”
Cordelia turned left, cutting off a pedestrian. “In the back. Waiting their turn.” She braked, hard, for a red light. Doyle swallowed his intestines back into place. “It went well, don’t you think? I should get a call back tomorrow. Day after at the latest.”
“Yeah, well, I’m not sure your co-star expected to get bonked on the head with the skillet.”
“I am an expert. I use the skillet to its widest range of possibilities.” She frowned. “Do I make a right, or a left here?”
Cordelia shot off to the right.
“Cordy, I said left!”
Doyle groaned. This was almost as bad as his last vision. He hadn’t been certain that he would survive that either. Then—
“Hold up!” he yelped. “Cordy, pull over!”
“What? Why? You going to be sick again? That was very embarassing for me, I’ll have you know.”
“No, it’s the alleyway.”
“You’re going to be sick in an alleyway? Better that than Angel’s car.”
“The one in my vision. It’s right there.” He hopped out of the car. “Coming?”
“Right. Me. Trap. Nets. Alleyway. No Angel to rescue me, ‘cause it’s the middle of the day. Not a chance, bozo. You call this bodyguarding?”
Doyle bit back half a dozen hungover responses that came to mind, most of which involved variations on “and what a body it is!”. “My vision showed the trap in the middle of the night. Or at least, early evening.”
“Oh. That’s okay, then.” Cordelia jumped out after him. “Eeeuww. Rats. Dirt. Why would I come here? At any time, day or night?”
“Lots of footprints, too. Big ones. Like Bayou demons would leave,” Doyle discovered. He looked around. It was a dead end, with a high brick wall that only a motivated monkey could scale. A trash bin to the left, empty beer bottles to the right, yes, this was what Doyle’s head had been exploding with last night. He re-emerged from the alley, Cordelia at his side. Pawn shop on one side of the alley; Doyle peered in and didn’t see anyone moving about. Standard for this early in the morning. No one to question or bribe for information.
“Much better on this side,” Cordelia said. “A tailor shop. Old World Tailor Shop, Floyd Buttercup, proprietor. Ever think of upgrading your image?”
“All the time, Princess. All the time. Let’s go in and pick out a tie.” He held the door open for her. A small cowbell jangled as the door swung closed, shutting out the heat and light of the L.A. sun.
“Now this is what you should be wearing,” Cordelia told him, caressing a deep green silk blazer on a black velvet mannequin with no head, drinking in the cool linens, the muslin shirts, the dark gray suits. “A beige shirt, this jacket to bring out your eyes…”
“You think so, Princess?” Doyle asked, trying to keep the hope out of his voice. “Maybe you and I—“
“Can I help you?” The tailor emerged from the back room. He stopped when he saw the pair. His eyes grew cold, then glinted as an idea struck.
“We’re just looking for a tie, today,” Cordelia said brightly, ignoring the expression on the old man’s face. She’d dealt with recalcitrant sales help before. Today’s improvisational scene: buying clothes for a sartorially-challenged acquaintance. “For my friend here. Something tasteful, a bit subdued.”
The tailor reached below the counter for something. Doyle didn’t want to see what it was.
“That’s okay, we’re late for an appointment. Let’s go, Cordy.” He pushed her toward the door. Cordelia resented the interruption of her impromptu improv class.
“What appointment? Stop shoving!”
“Cordy, run!” Doyle pulled her outside, heading for her car.
Inside, the old man pulled out the poppet from beneath the counter. “Tom! Dick! Harry!” he called. “Get them!” He plucked a needle from a nearby pincushion. “This here should slow them down.” He jabbed the needle into the leg of the poppet, just as the well-dressed trio of sons, human-faced, barreled out in pursuit.
“What is it with you?” Cordelia screeched. “What do you have against looking good?”
“That’s the old man from the warehouse!”
“Why didn’t you say so?” Cordelia demanded.
Doyle yelped suddenly and went down, rolling and grabbing his leg. “Keep going!” he yelled when Cordelia paused.
Cordelia did. Long legs got her into Angel’s borrowed car and the motor running before the trio of demons ever hit the pavement. She floored the car—but not in the direction Doyle expected. Doyle barely managed to roll out of the way as she careened up onto the sidewalk. Demons scattered like matchsticks in the wind. Cordelia slammed on the brakes, and Doyle hobbled to the car. He dove in through the window, sliding himself around to sit properly and see where they were headed. Cordelia backed it around, sending the demons flying once again, and took off. A large cloud of dust followed them.
The trio picked themselves up, and brushed themselves off, shaking their fists at the departing car. Cordelia snidely waved back at them.
“Saw that in a Clint Eastwood movie,” Cordelia said proudly. “Like it?”
“Darlin’, you can star in my movie anyday!” Doyle breathed. “Let’s get back to office pronto and tell Angel all about your adventures.” He leaned back into the leather seat and closed his eyes, rubbing his knee. The way Cordelia drove, it seemed the wisest thing to do if he wanted to avoid an ulcer from the stress.
Funny. His knee didn’t seem sprained now. But the pain had been unmistakeable. Stabbing pain to the knee, roll to the ground, get up and hobble around.
Then Cordelia made another left turn, and Doyle forgot all about his current injuries and started worrying about which body part was going to get crunched along with Cordelia’s car.
“Got ‘em trapped.” Angel paced around the office, waiting for
the sun to go down. “We know where they live. We’ll take ‘em out tonight.”
He rubbed his hands together in satisfaction. “We got ‘em now.”
“You could ask me how my audition went, you know,” Cordelia pouted. “If it hadn’t been for me, we wouldn’t have found that nest of ugly demon-things at all.”
“I’m sorry, Cordelia.” Angel stopped pacing. “How was your audition?” He immediately turned to Doyle. “Think they’ll move out before we get there? They have much to pack?”
“Not a chance,” Doyle said. “They got too much money tied up in the joint. It would take ‘em a week at least.”
“Unless they decide to leave it all behind and start over fresh.” Angel resumed pacing. “How soon until sundown?”
“Ten minutes less than the last time you asked,” Cordelia returned tartly, “and still half an hour until it’s safe for our little Angel to go outside and play.”
Angel opened up the armoire of weapons. “Let’s see, what do I take this time? Battle-axe was good, but I was hoping for something a little more permanent. Something that will do a fine job of denting a few faces.” He pulled out a cutlass, judged it too light, returned it and replaced it with a six-foot broadsword. He hefted the massive piece with no more effort than if it were made of tinfoil, making the point dance in the dying sunlight. Angel grinned in anticipation, trying to decide on a few back up blades to hide in his duster.
“Something that kills big, ugly, Bayou demons,” Cordelia put in. “Mercy only if they agree to give Doyle an entire new wardrobe.”
The phone rang. Cordelia picked it up. “Angel Investigations,” she chirped. “We help the hopeless.” She listened a moment. “One moment. I’ll see if he’s in.” She covered the mouthpiece. “Are you in? Sounds like a rich hopeless case. I love it when the cases start rolling in. Shall we try to squeeze him in before pounding the big ugly demons, or first thing tomorrow?”
“Tomorrow. This may be a little bit messy, and I’d like to shower before interviewing a new client.”
Cordelia returned to the role of receptionist. “I’m sorry, sir, but he’s not available at the present. Would you like to make an appointment?” She listened, and her face froze. “Uh, Angel, I think you’d better take this one. It’s not a client.”
With a growing sense of unease, Angel took the phone from her and put it on speaker. “Hello?”
“Mr. Angel? This here’s Floyd Buttercup.”
“Floyd Buttercup, of Old World Tailoring Shop. Your associates dropped in to see me earlier today. They left in such a hurry that Ah didn’t have the opportunity to give them an invitation for your personal perusal of the premises. Ah’d like to extend that invitation now.”
“Really.” There was something going on, and Angel didn’t think he’d like it. “We may take you up on that offer. Say, nine tonight?”
A small, genteel chuckle. “Ah’m afraid you misunderstand me, suh. It’s a personal invitation. Your associates have already come and gone, and need not come again. No, suh, it’s you Ah’m interested in. You will present yourself, alone, at my shop in one hour.”
Something was definitely up. The assault that Angel had been planning was looking more and more like a booby trap. But Angel and company held all the cards, didn’t they?
“That’s a little early for me,” Angel returned cautiously.
“Quite. Ah understand completely, having that skin condition as you do. Two hours, then, and not a minute later. And Ah believe Ah did mention that you should come alone.”
“Don’t do it, Angel,” Doyle advised.
Buttercup heard him over the speaker phone. “Ah would strongly advise you to do as you’re told, suh.”
“And if I don’t?”
“Observe, suh.” There was a moment of silence, then—
Doyle cried out. He grabbed at his leg and staggered back against Cordelia, who kept him from toppling over. It was over as swiftly as it occurred.
“Doyle!” Angel exclaimed.
“It’s all right, man.” Doyle straightened up again, testing the leg. “Not near as bad as a vision. He can’t get us that way. You hold your ground.”
“Perhaps a further demonstration,” Buttlercup said thoughtfully. “You may perceive that mah family and Ah have made some small study of the Magical Laws of Similarity and Contagion. The symbol is the thing, don’t y’know. The hex dolls of the voodoo persuasion are one such example. This particular poppet that I hold in my hand, which of course you cannot see, is my own sample of our expertise.”
The sudden pain doubled the half-demon over, driving Doyle to his knees. The cold linoleum floor felt good against his cheek—how had his face gotten next to the floor? No matter; the next goal was to persuade his innards that the troubles were finished. His stomach, however, wasn’t buying it. Through the haze Doyle could barely hear Angel yelling, “No more! I’ll be there!”
You never really appreciated the absence of pain until you got it, Doyle thought, though he did wish that Angel would stop gripping his arm so tightly. He sat up, but thought better of trying to stand just yet. Yet despite it all he still found the sense to admire the sight of a worried Cordelia in her vee neck blouse leaning over him. “You can let go now, Angel. I’m not going anywhere, and it’s a wee bit difficult to fall off the floor.”
“It’s good to hear you bein’ so reasonable, vampire,” Buttercup put in. The phone made his voice tinny. “And in case you have any ideas about bein’ difficult, or bringin’ anyone else along, just think about that last unfortunate ‘vision’ your associate had. Ah can do that for a very long time. No skin off my nose.”
“No need,” Angel whispered, beaten. “I’ll be there. Alone.”
“Yes, you will,” was the last thing that Doyle heard before Buttercup slipped that too sharp needle into the poppet’s head again. Almost the last thing; there was a lot of screeching and howling from both Angel and Cordelia before blessed unconsciousness took him.
It was a well lit street that the Old World Tailoring Shop was
located on. The only trouble Angel had finding the place was following
Cordelia’s directions, which tended to be laced with points such as “turn
right at the shop with that cute little pink dress in the window,” and
“left at that shoe store with those darling leather boots.” Buttercup had
thoughtfully left the door unlocked and the store lights on for him. Angel
The three demons, human-faced and in an open-throated silk gray shirt, greeted him as he entered. The first offered his hand. “Welcome, suh! Ah’m Tom Buttercup, Floyd’s son. Ah’m so glad you could see your way clear to joinin’ us tonight.”
“You didn’t leave me much choice,” Angel told him, declining the proffered hand.
Tom shrugged it off. “But first, if you’d be so kind as to hand over your coat. We’ll give it a good going over, make sure there’s nothing inside that might rip the fabric, like a fine edged weapon, f’r instance.”
There went a good three-quarters of his arsenal. Not that he expected to use it; not until he’d gotten that poppet out of their hands. Harry took his duster from him. Tom conducted him into the back room.
“Sit down, sit down,” the old man welcomed him. “Let me present my wife.” He gestured to the Stone of Ganara.
Angel inspected it: this was at the root of all of their problems. It looked like a rather large hunk of white quartz, polished to fine sheen but nothing to compare to a high quality diamond. Obviously the old Celts were impoverished at the time this was created. Being hammered by Romans tended to do that, back in those days. Angel suspected that the effectiveness of the charm was likewise inferior. Like baking a cake, the end result depended on the quality of the ingredients.
The Stone had been gathering energy, energy stolen from those people and others like them that Angel had been too late to rescue just days ago. It glowed, emitting a haze that was gradually acquiring the form of a woman.
Angel inclined his head politely. “Mrs. Buttercup.”
The haze gestured lazily in response.
“A fine woman, despite being human,” Buttercup said. “You can see why me and the boys have gone to all this trouble.”
“It’s a troublesome stone, this hunk of rock here,” Buttercup continued. “Takes a lot of energy to keep Mrs. Buttercup solid, even for a solitary twenty minutes. We ran out of customers back home. People started getting suspicious, all those disappearances. We needed a place where there was more supply. Supply and demand, you know.”
It started to come together. “You put your wife into that stone,” Angel realized. “What happened to her? Incurable illness?”
“Hit and run accident, actually,” Buttercup allowed. “Horrible scene, hospital death bed and all that. Had this here stone from my wife’s daddy; her grand decided to move on too after her daddy died, leaving the stone empty. Petunia gave it a good cleansing, waitin’ for the day it would be needed again.” He laughed bitterly. “Never thought Petunia’d be the one to need it. Then had to do the funeral; had a good laugh with her sitting in my pocket, watching all the neighbors’ crocodile tears.”
The womanly haze fluttered her fingers, holding back silent laughter.
“Only problem is, stone runs out of gas too quick. Petunia can only do ‘bout twenty minutes or so from any one person. Gotta feed on a bunch to give her any quality time whatsoever. A body can run through a small town powerful quick that way.”
“I can imagine,” Angel murmured sarcastically.
“Ah can see that you’re a man of sense. Which brings us to you.”
Angel leaned back expectantly.
“Ain’t too many vampires around with souls. ‘Pears to me that you could be a long-lasting source of energy for poor Petunia here. Renewable resource, the government men call it.”
The whole picture suddenly became very clear. “And I presume you expect me to gracefully submit to being drained on a daily basis.”
“We’d give you the occasional Sunday off,” Buttercup offered. “But, gracefully? No. Ah am quite prepared to coerce you as much as needed. It was Petunia that came up with the idea of the poppet; learned it from her grand. Like to see it?” He reached into a drawer and pulled out the six-inch cloth doll.
Angel inspected the item from across Buttercup’s desk. He had to give Buttercup credit: the figure was well crafted and clearly made Angel think of Doyle. The head had that same cocky tilt, the rough leather jacket; it was Doyle, all right. He almost expected the thing to hunch its shoulders into the jacket and prop its feet up onto the desk.
The brothers moved in closer, and Buttercup kept a firm hand on the figure. Angel discarded any notion of grabbing the poppet from the little tailor; he didn’t want to imagine what Doyle would go through as the arms and legs were torn off. And if the head came off? Angel controlled a shudder.
“You leave me no choice.”
“That’s quite correct, suh. No choice at all.” Buttercup transferred the poppet to Harry. “Hold on to that, son, while your brothers and Ah take care of the vampire.”
Tom and Dick each grabbed one of Angel’s shoulders, holding him firmly in the chair. Angel could break free—not easily, he thought, but he could do it—but he sat there, waiting. It wouldn’t be physical force that kept him there. Buttercup picked up the Stone of Ganara, the wafting haze dragged behind like a soft breeze.
“You’ll have to tell me what it feels like,” Buttercup mentioned to him. “Everyone else hasn’t had a lot to say.”
“Just get it over with,” Angel snarled, trying not to go into vamp mode.
“Whatever you say.”
Buttercup leaned in with the Stone, which didn’t look nearly as ineffectual as the textbooks seemed to indicate. Angel could feel the heat from a foot away, leaching at something inside him. It didn’t hurt, but… it pulled! Darkness wavered around the edges of his vision, threatening to overcome him, and he remembered that he didn’t like unconsciousness any more now that he was undead than when he was among the living.
“That’s enough for now,” he heard a woman’s voice drawl, as if from a distance. How long had he been out? “We mustn’t drain him too much, else he’ll be no good to me. You can leave him alone; he’s no harm to anyone in this state. But we’d best find some way to feed him.”
She was right, Angel thought. Just the concept of getting up out of this chair was enough to make him dizzy. Tom and Dick hoisted him by the arms, dragging him out of the office into a large back room, Buttercup pattering alongside with his amazingly solid wife. No longer a cloud of glowing light, she looked just as alive as Angel. More, actually, given his current condition. She wore the Stone of Ganara on a chain around her neck.
“No need, wife,” Buttercup told her. “The vamp’ll be back when we tell him to. We can put him out the back door, and tell him to return tomorrow evening. There’s no place the Brachen can go that our little poppet can’t find him. As long as we have the poppet, the vamp is ours. He can feed himself.”
“Can’t have someone go dusting this feller,” Mrs. Buttercup pointed out. “Maybe we’d best confine him to a spot without any pointy wooden edges nearby.”
“We could put him in the linen closet,” Dick suggested. “We could take turns walking him on a leash.”
Angel tried to ignore the discussion. The future that the Buttercup’s were contemplating didn’t look very bright. There was a small consolation: in just moments he began to feel stronger. His vampire self started to kick in, replenishing his energy; he could easily break the boys’ hold at any time.
“Don’t even think about it,” warned Buttercup. “You do as you’re told, or Ah’ll torment your friend till he begs you to kill him out of kindness, assuming a vampire can understand such a thing.”
“I don’t have much choice,” Angel grumbled, deliberately stumbling in their grasp. His returning strength was a high card he would keep in reserve. The boys relaxed their hold.
Angel looked around the large greatroom. Four massive tables dotted the work space, covered with fine linens and patterns, suits to be sewn. Six-foot bolts of cloth stood on end in one corner with a large rack of different colored threads to one side, available for use at a moment’s notice. Two freestanding bars hung from the ceiling with dozens of fashion mistakes dangling from hangars, waiting to have something drastic done to them. Several sewing machines and sergers and things Angel couldn’t begin to identify sat lined up along one side, large spools of thread weaving through the nooks and crannies of technological tailoring. They had needles and sharp points; Angel thought uncomfortably of some of the medieval torture chambers he’d been in. Come to think of it, Cordelia had mentioned something of the same feeling in relationship to the sewing classes that she’d been forced to participate in back at Sunnydale High.
Bam! from the back door. Angel’s heart sank. This late at night, chances were pretty good that it was not the encyclopedia salesman. He’d told Cordelia not to try anything. And not to let Doyle try anything either when he woke up. As long as Buttercup had the poppet, the Bayou demon family had the upper hand; they had to play along, look for an opportunity to break their hold.
“You boys expecting anybody?” Buttercup asked, alarmed.
“No, daddy. Not this time of night.”
Bam! again. Wood splintered on the door, but it took a third Bam! to break it down. Doyle stepped in.
“Damn, Angel, you make kicking in a door look so easy,” he grumbled. Then he grinned. “Look’ee what I got.” He brandished a fire extinguisher.
“Doyle, are you crazy? Get out of here!”
“Not a chance,” the half-demon sang out. “Pull pin, and squeeze.” Setting actions to words, he aimed the nozzle of the fire extinguisher at the closest of the brothers, Tom, spraying him with CO2 gas.
The Bayou demon slowed to a halt, a human looking statue reaching out toward Doyle.
“Have a cold one on me,” Doyle told him. He grinned at Angel. “Looks like the books were right, for once. Cold does slow ‘em down.” He turned to the remaining Buttercups. “Shall we tap the keg?”
Harry went for him, and went stone cold for his trouble, sliding like a pile of rocks tumbling downhill and ending up still three feet away from Doyle. Angel drove his elbow into Dick’s midriff, knocking him backwards and longing for his battle-axe. Dick bounced back, aimed a kick at Angel’s head. Angel ducked, and put the Bayou demon through the wall. The brother slid down to the floor.
Then Mrs. Buttercup attacked.
Angel held back. It had been a long time since he’d hit a woman. Even a dead one revived by a charm. She took advantage of his hesitation. She shoved the Stone of Ganara at his face.
He felt the heat pouring from him, the pulling, the tugging. His knees started to buckle.
No, the tugging was Doyle, dragging him away from the pulling. Angel grabbed the nearest thing he could get his hands on—a bolt of cloth—and flung it at Mrs. Buttercup. She staggered back with a screech and toppled over, more heavy bolts of cloth pinning her to the floor. One more Buttercup down. Angel fell to his knees, drained. Staying awake was all he could manage after his second run in with the Stone.
“Y’all hold it right there!” Buttercup barked.
Doyle froze, although not in the sense that two of the Bayou demons had. Sometime in the preceding minutes, Buttercup had reverted to his demon image, but that was not what made him look so fearsome. It was what he held in his hand.
“Make one move, and it’s the last thing you’ll ever see,” Buttercup warned the half-breed.
Doyle laughed nastily. “One move is all I need, old man.” He squeezed the nozzle. Cold gas billowed out, engulfing Buttercup’s knees. They locked, trapping Buttercup in the one spot.
The knees were as far as Doyle got. Buttercup’s hands were warm and strong and free from arthritis. Buttercup tightened his grip around the poppet’s chest. Doyle cried out and clutched at his ribs, dropping the fire extinguisher. His mouth worked, but nothing came out.
Out of the corner of his eye, Angel could see the icy demon-sicles start to thaw out. A finger moved, an eyelid blinked. They didn’t have much time. He crawled to his feet and wobbled unsteadily. Interesting contest; which would be first to regain movement, the frozen demons or the energy-depleted vampire?
“Give it up,” Angel urged. Threats were a good start; they didn’t take much strength to hurl. “You can’t win.”
“You’d best get back down on the floor, face-down, and lace those fingers behind your head,” Buttercup instructed him from his spot. “Ah won’t tell you again, boy.” He tightened his grip on the poppet. Doyle gasped. And gasped again, for air. He started turning blue, and it wasn’t because he was shifting to demon-mode.
“Let him go!” Angel demanded, trying to look stronger than he felt.
“On the floor, boy!” Buttercup wasn’t buying it.
“Let him go!”
Buttercup swung around; that was a feminine tone, and not his wife’s. Cordelia stood behind him in the doorway, the skillet in one hand and a black silk blazer in the other. Unlike Doyle, she had come politely in through the storefront and the office and back to the greatroom.
She indicated the blazer. “I was going to ask how much this cost, but I think this would be a much better idea under the circumstances.” She belted Buttercup across the skull with the skillet. He went down as though pole-axed.
“The poppet!” Angel tried to dive—and ended up crawling—for the doll before any of the demons unfroze. He pulled it out of Buttercup’s grasp, unprying the fingers one by one. He held the poppet up, safe.
Doyle inhaled suddenly, grabbing at his chest. “That was too close,” he gasped. He felt gingerly at himself. “I think he cracked some of my ribs.”
Angel spared him a mere glance. “We’ve got to end this now. Where’s the Stone of Ganara?”
“You mean, this piece of junk?” Cordelia asked, lifting the charm off Mrs. Buttercup’s neck. “I’ve seen better jewelry made by second-graders. Come to think of it, I was that second-grader, and my design was much more elegant!”
Buttercup peered blearily at the two women. “What’re you doing, girl?” He looked more closely, trying to get up on knees the consistency of gelato. “Don’t you touch that! Give that to me right now!” Cordelia ignored him.
“Let me have it, and the skillet,” Angel said. He placed the stone on one of the sturdy tables, taking the skillet from Cordelia. “Here goes.” He brought the skillet down onto the Stone of Ganara. It shattered into dust.
“What have you done?” Buttercup screeched. He scrambled to his feet, his knees sounding like icicles snapping off a roof. “You’ve killed her! My wife! Petunia!”
“Doesn’t look very dead to me,” Cordelia observed. “Seems to be breathing just fine.”
“Better’n me,” Doyle coughed.
“Stands up pretty well, too,” Angel said as Cordelia helped the older woman to her feet. Mrs. Buttercup shook her head dazedly, dusting herself off.
“I’ve heard those ancient Celts could do some very sloppy work when they were rushed,” Angel said. “I’ll bet this was some of it. Definitely not up to their usual standards. The Stone of Ganara needed the constant energy source in order to keep someone alive forever, but who wants to live forever?”—with a sudden pang of regret.
Mrs. Buttercup snorted. “Ah always told you, Floyd, to get rid of that hunk of rock. It was tacky. Ah never liked it when ole Grand wore it, and Ah didn’t like it when you made me wear it. You never let me break that Stone up right, like this boy just did, and it kept me inside for far too long. We can do better than that, Floyd; Ah always told you so. Now you buy me that diamond you been promising me for the last five years, and we’ll see ‘bout going back to Louisiana where we belong.” She snickered. “Got me a few ideas ‘bout charmin’ a diamond. Came up with ‘em, thinkin’ inside that pebble. Maybe work up a big enough rock for two people to cohabitate, Floyd.”
“You mean it, Petunia?”
“Would Ah be saying it if Ah didn’t, Floyd?”
“Good time for an exit,” Angel decided.
Cordelia paused. “Can I keep the blazer?”
“Ow,” said Doyle. “Ow.”
“Shut up, Doyle.”
“I can’t help it,” he complained. “Feels like you’re pulling porcupine quills out of my chest.” He squirmed on the sofa, trying to get comfortable.
“You can have old clumsy fingers over there try.” Cordelia ripped another stitch out of the abused poppet, carefully taking the figure apart and removing the hexed innards. “Or we could always try burning it.”
“No thanks,” Doyle said hastily. “Where is the boss, by the bye?”
“Downstairs. Working out.” Cordelia smiled victoriously.
And downstairs, going through a kata that he would usually reserve for a Japanese sword, Angel fought his shadow enemy with his new weapon of choice: the skillet.